Stone Soup

I stumbled upon the following story on a book I´m reading now (title at the end of the post):

Three soldiers got back home from war. They were starving after weeks on their way back. When they saw the village, their spirits got lifted. They´d finally get to eat something! But soon they realized things were not what they expected. After years of war, the village was very short on food, and everyone had retrenched into their locked homes, with whatever they were able to hoard.

Undeterred, the soldiers boiled a pot of water and carefully placed three stones in it. The amazed villagers came out of their houses to watch.

"This is stone soup," the soldiers explained. "Is that all you put in it?" asked one of the villagers. "Yep. Although some say it tastes better with some carrots in it." The villager run off and brought a basket of carrots.

"Is that it?" another villager asked. "Well, a couple of potatoes give it body." And off ran another villager.

Over the next hour, the soldiers listed more ingredients: leeks, salt, herbs... Each time a different villager would bring some from their personal stock.

Eventually they produced a large pot of steaming soup and they all sat down to enjoy the first square meal any of them had eaten in months. The End.

While the story may have different readings, the one I´m interested about is this: if they had proposed to boil a soup together it would have never happened. Only by starting it up on their own (even with three stones) were the others inclined to join, resulting in a big win for everyone. Starting something up creates resistance, and the broader the approach, the more arguments for not doing it will pop up. Someone will see a potential risk, someone will question further implications, someone will come up with uncertainties that have no answer. It´s time to take out the stones and boil some stone soup. It´s easier to join an ongoing success (even a modest one) than facing the risk and effort of committing to something new. Make it easy for them.

The story comes from the book The Pragmatic Programmer, in the context of projects that do not get traction when different people have to agree to start it up. Obviously the applicable domain is much bigger than IT project management. The message is clear: be a catalyst for change. I thought that was an advice worth sharing.

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