By Anne Jin Soo Preston
As Carlo and I have been exploring what makes a successful collaboration, I was reminded of the story of stone soup. I decided to look up the story to refresh my memory and never realized there were so many versions that spanned from not only a cultural perspective, but also different situations including a military strategy, a computer game, and the concept for a theatre company.
In the version that I remember, a weary traveler comes upon a village looking for food during a time when food and resources are scarce. He has only a large pot but no ingredients to make anything for him to eat. After knocking on several doors and getting nothing to add to his pot, he finds a water source, forages some wood to make a fire, and begins to boil water. Many of the people from the village see him doing this and wonder what he’s making, as none of them have offered him anything that they have in their pantry. As people come out and ask him what he’s doing, he drops in a beautifully smooth stone and says he’s making stone soup. The villagers have not heard of stone soup before and ask him more about it. He takes a taste of the soup and says, “Oh the soup tastes okay, but it could really use a carrot.” One villager offers carrots from their pantry, he adds them and has that villager try the soup. She says, “I think the soup could use some potatoes.” Another villager returns with the potatoes… so it continues. As the villagers both taste the soup and wait to hear what it needs next, they find all of the ingredients to make a delicious pot of soup that all of them can enjoy together.
When I mentioned I was writing this blog post to friend of mine, she reminded me of the “trickery” part of the story and the traveler convincing people to give up something that they were saving for themselves. This is where I disagree. I believe that it is actually not about the trickery at all, rather the traveler created an opportunity to engage the community in outlining a vision for the “soup” and together they found a way to meet that vision. There were essential items for making a good soup that each of the people from the village had in their pantry, but they needed someone to show them the potential of stone soup and that is what the traveler provided for them. Just like the villagers, staff, board members, and volunteers, need to be engaged in creating a shared vision in order to achieve a successful collaboration. What is key is acknowledging each person’s assets, by doing this a little more trust is established through knowing what the group as a whole is bringing to the table. Each individual needs to be recognized by the group in order to understand how to create and lead together. Making and practicing what goes into our own recipe for stone soup is how we can feed our organizations and communities.