“STONE SOUP” Innovation

Stone Soup Innovation

 

Last night, I attended my daughter’s 4th grade music recital, which was an unbelievable production of singing, dancing, instrumentation, visual arts, and more.  The ability of her music teacher to get approximately 100 boys and girls choreographed and coordinated was impressive, and was as strong a demonstration of leadership and innovation that you will ever see.  But I digress…

The key theme of the show was around the story of “Stone Soup”.  There are several versions of this tale, but for this particular performance the story starts with three monks wandering into a village where they hoped to get a meal and some rest.  As they walked through the village, they found a community of hard working individuals who largely kept to themselves and appeared generally bored and unhappy.  As the monks went door to door looking for a place to stay, no one would even answer their knocks as the villagers chose to focus on their own concerns rather than to help some strangers.  The monks had an immediate concern for shelter, but also saw an opportunity to rejuvenate the culture of this village.  So they went to the middle of town, started a fire, and got the attention of a young girl from the village.  They told the girl that they were preparing to make stone soup, and that all they needed was a large pot and some water.

The girl rushed home, asked her mom for a pot, and together they walked back to the monks.  As the monks boiled the water, a crowd started to form as one of the monks ceremoniously placed their magic stones into the water. The buzz of the event spread throughout the village, and everyone dropped what they were doing to be a part of the excitement.  As the monks stirred the pot, one of them smelled the soup and said aloud that it could taste even better with a dash of salt and pepper.  So one of the villagers ran home and grabbed generous amounts of the spices to add to the soup.  Upon adding the spices, a second monk tasted the soup and exclaimed, “What would really be delightful are some fresh carrots!”  So another of the villagers ran home and grabbed several bunches of carrots.  And this process continued as all of the villagers became involved, bringing meats, vegetables, sides of bread, and desserts… all to help the monks in their fascinating brew of stone soup.  Upon completion of the soup, the monks dished it out and the villagers enjoyed the most delicious soup that any of them had ever tasted.  Everyone laughed, enjoyed each other’s company, and danced through the night, as the enjoyment of stone soup was not felt merely in their mouths and stomachs, but in their hearts and souls as well.

This story hit home for me beyond the songs and dance moves of my daughter’s class, as I reflected on the role of the innovator and the leader.  We often are tasked to create a delicious soup and to rally our village of coworkers to provide the effort, time, and ingredients to bring this soup to life.  However, many times the path taken is dramatically different than that of these monks.  Instead of creating an inspiring and somewhat open ended vision that attracts and enrolls followers, do we serve up a prescriptive recipe and demand strict adherence?  Do we encourage a spirit of shared creativity or of strict compliance?  Are we open to the amazing possibilities that the acceptance of new ideas can incite, or are we afraid of the potential chaos and uncertainty?  As leaders, we want to insure that our team can successfully execute a winning recipe and to deliver the desired results on time.  As innovators, we want the freedom to imagine possibilities, to experiment, and to work in a culture where all voices can be heard and new ideas can be incorporated.  We all want delicious soup.

To create an environment where our innovators bring their passion, their extra effort, and their best ingredients for our soup, we need to enroll them into the process of creation higher than just the process of execution.  Had the monks gone into town, told the villagers that they were making the best soup in the world, and ordered them to bring back all of the necessary ingredients, participation would have been reluctant and reticent… if it had occurred at all. As leaders, it still is important to have a bold vision to inspire and to guide the organization, but to leave that vision open enough for growth and builds from the innovative minds and spirits of the team.  The beauty of “stone soup” is that it is an interesting and magical concept that inspired a community to not only be a part of it… but to invest their best time and resources to make it better.  “Stone soup innovation” can thus not only yield the best possible soup, but an improved innovation culture as well.  The monks will attract, rather than obligate followers, the villagers will come out of their shells and openly share the best of themselves, and everyone can dance and celebrate long into the night.

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Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com

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When WRITER’S BLOCK Extends to Life

Writer's Block for Life

Sometimes you just have to open the computer and start typing.  Even if you feel stuck in a rut and don’t quite know where the story is going to end.  It has been three months now since I have written a post, and it has not been from a lack of ideas.  Nor from a lack of desire.  I love to write and I know that it is amazingly cathartic to clear my head.  But I haven’t been able to just put the pen to paper to start a post much less to finish one.

Further, this is one of those classic cases where life imitates art.  That sense of stuck-ness that has plagued me in my writing is also prevalent more broadly across my life’s works.  It is not that I am unhappy or even un-driven, but rather that I just feel as if anytime I attempt to make a step forward that I am stepping into a fog of molasses.  I don’t know if you have ever felt that way, but for me this is the most profound feeling of “block” broadly across my world that I have experienced.  The desire to be productive and to make a difference is still strong, but the activation energy to get moving is remarkably high.  I am still busy, and I am still checking boxes, but it feeling more like scribbling than composing a masterpiece.

As I have spent some time diagnosing the source of this so that I can find the path out of the fog, I have seen a few consistent themes.

  • Too much noise: Across all aspects of my world, I am just surrounded by clutter; those nagging and incessant responsibilities and headaches that add no real value to society but weigh heavily on the to do list.  It is far too easy for me to get sucked into the endless vortex of tasks while being pulled further away from things that matter.  Spending too much time immersed in the noise not only takes focus away from that which is truly meaningful, but it drowns out my sense of fulfillment as well.
  • No clear definition of success: Now that my book is drafted and near publishing, I don’t have a good sense for what this blog should stand for as I move forward.  In my career, now that I am at approximately a halfway point, I am reassessing what I want to be, and do, when I grow up.  Without having a clear finish line in mind, it is hard for me to just keep running.
  • Focus on what is out of my control:  It is easy to get overwhelmed worrying about what is happening peripherally, instead of keeping my eyes on what I can truly deliver personally.  There is a lot of uncertainty all around me and there are a lot of people and problems that try to steal my attention.  Too much time dwelling on that which I don’t control not only steals my time, but also my mental capacity to deliver what I care to control.
  • Guilt in resting:  Because of my “block” in making progress on my priorities, it is hard for me to justify taking a rest.  How can I possibly take a break to refresh and to escape when there are so many tasks that demand my attention?  This faulty logic not only exacerbates my activation energy issues, but also zaps the creativity and experiences that I need to be innovative.  Denying myself the permission to step away both drains my batteries and also denies me the escape to diverse opportunities where new ideas and connections are born.

As I work through this block that is impacting my writing and beyond, it is natural to want to solve everything at once; to drop everything and define my vision for the future, find a breakthrough solution for eliminating clutter, and force myself to rest and recharge.  But that isn’t even remotely realistic.  What I can’t do, however, is to stay stuck in the rut, staring at the blank sheet of paper wishing for a magical story, with a happy ending, to present itself before me.  Now, when faced with this immovable block in the mental road, I have to just start writing and see where the story takes me.

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Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com