Stone Soup Approach to Communities of Practice

Stone Soup as a key to successful communities of practice

The story of Stone Soup is one that exists in many cultures, and it’s one that I learned as a child. This story, I believe, speaks to the core principles of running an effective volunteer project—including successful communities.

A long time ago, a kind traveler came upon a poor village filled with many unhappy people. The traveler smiled and asked why they were so unhappy. The villagers told him it was because there was no food to eat and they were starving. The traveler said, “Oh I can help you. I have a magic stone. In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with you.” He pulled an iron cauldron from his cloak, filled it with water, and began to build a fire under it. Then, with great ceremony, he drew an ordinary-looking stone from his bag and dropped it into the water. By now, hearing the rumor of food, most of the villagers had come out of their homes or watched from their windows. As the stranger sniffed the “broth” and licked his lips in anticipation, hunger began to overcome their fear. “Ahh,” the traveler said to himself rather loudly, “I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage — that’s hard to beat.” Soon a villager approached hesitantly, holding a small cabbage he’d retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot. “Wonderful!!” cried the stranger. “You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of salt beef as well, and it was fit for a king.” The village butcher managed to find some salt beef . . . and so it went, through potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and so on, until there was a delicious meal for everyone in the village to share. The villagers offered the stranger a great deal of money for the stone, but he refused to sell it and traveled on the next day. As he left, the stranger came upon a group of village children standing near the road. He gave the stone to the youngest child and whispered to the children that it was not the stone, but the villagers that had performed the magic.

There are 7 ingredients needed for a successful Stone Soup Community

Let’s consider the Stone Soup story as we think about what it takes to run a successful community:

  • Ingredient #1:  Recognition of Community Members. We’ll begin with Recognition. Remember, in the story, each villager had something unique that added to the deliciousness of the soup. As community leaders, we need to recognize the value that each community member brings to the community and understand that the members are what make the community successful.
  • Ingredient #2:  Engagement. Engagement. Recall that the traveler engaged each of the villagers who wanted to be a part of making the soup.
  • Ingredient #3:  Shared Vision. The traveler provided a vision that excited and engaged the villagers.
  • Ingredient #4:  Understanding. The traveler understood the villagers’ needs.
  • Ingredient #5:  Leadership. There would have been no soup without the leadership provided by traveler…
  • Ingredient #6:  Trading Time. The villagers each traded one thing they had for something of more value—the soup.
  • Ingredient #7:  Style. The traveler helped the villagers to appreciate what was given through style and finesse. At each step, he spoke to how much better the soup was with the ingredient that was provided. He emphasized the positive and put each accomplishment within the best light possible.

Stone Soup Communities are all about results.

The bottom line for communities is the results they provide to members, the enterprise and customers.  It’s important to generate short-term wins along the way, so that your community can experience the success.

Use Scrum to create a rhythm of success for your community.

We recommend Scrum, an Agile project management framework, as a way for communities to maintain a rhythm and continuously demonstrate their community’s accomplishments and successes. With this approach, every two weeks, they prioritize (rank order) their communities requirements (problems or focus areas), select the most highly-ranked requirements to complete within the next two weeks, work together to deliver value, demonstrate results and then reflect on how to improve for the next two weeks.

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