Project Practitioners > [How to] Make Stone Soup

[How to] Make Stone Soup

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


This story is paraphrased from the book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World by Peter Diamandis:


Soldiers stood on the outskirts of a medieval town. Farmers spot their whereabouts and warn the town about the potential of the soldiers stealing the villagers’ food. After knocking on many doors to no avail, a starving soldier suggests, “Let’s make stone soup.”

He asks a villager for a cauldron and some firewood to make stone soup. With no risk to the villager, she responds by handing over a cauldron and firewood saying, “I need to see this.” Another soldier fetches some water. Once the water comes to a boil, they add three stones to make stone soup.

Villagers gather to watch the impossible. They continue to question the soldier’s ability to make soup out of stones. Eventually, one villager asks to help. The soldier replies a few potatoes would make the soup much better. The potatoes are added sparking another villager to ask if he can help. The soldier replies some carrots would make the soup even better.

After more villagers ask to help and bring back garlic, poultry, barley, and leeks, the soldier exclaims, “It’s done!” To the amazement of the villagers, this soldier made soup from stones.


To make more sense of this fable, let’s apply it to project management:


What are the stones?

The stones are your bold idea. A bold idea can be anything. Taking revenues from $1 million to $100 million, expanding production facilities from 1,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet, and hiring three times the employees in the next six months are all examples of thinking big.

Bold ideas are not incremental shifts. They are transformational. Like stone soup, you are creating something that is thought to be impossible. When you have this mindset, people organically help your cause. The villagers, in disbelief, started to ask the soldiers “How can I help you?”

In doing so, the dream became a reality. Your vision is contagious. People see the look in your eyes and the determination to make it work they start to seek out ways to help rather than wait for your command.


What are the contributions of the villagers?

The contributions symbolize “capital, resources, and intellectual support offered by investors and strategic partners” according to Diamandis. Everyone who adds to the stone soup is helping make your vision possible. These contributions vary in size and impact.

Take garlic for example. Garlic adds a nice flavor to the soup but having too much of it ruins the overall taste. It should be added with caution and in small doses. However, poultry and vegetables can be added in mass quantities. These ingredients are the main source for a successful soup.

As a project manager, you have a budget, a team, and a schedule all contributing to your bold idea. At some point, the contributors want to see a return. This return does not have to be financial, but it must symbolize progress. If, after six months, all you have to show is a fancy drawing, people may start to bow out.

The villagers started to see stone soup being made after each contribution. Once all of their efforts were complete, a delicious soup made of stones was created. Your idea became a group effort because of the contributions from many others. You built a following that believes in your abilities.


What makes stone soup work?

Passion. It is difficult to duplicate. Acting passionate can be detected. True passion is obvious. Without passion, the villagers never would have contributed poultry, vegetables, and spices to the stone soup. The soldier was convincing in his ability to make soup from stones.

In your pitch of your bold idea, passion must ooze from your pores. The project cannot be another ho-hum deal you trying to put together so your organization can turn a profit. Passion projects have a different feel. A work-life balance does not exist in a passion project. You are so dedicated to getting it done you spend all of your waking hours experimenting, implementing, and completing tasks.

This passion is a magnet. People begin to pitch in without questioning. They want to be part of the team that accomplished a lofty goal no one saw coming.


Is passion enough?

No. Passion can lead to close-minded thought processes because you are so focused on the end goal and your way to go about performing. The phrase ‘love is blind’ can be related to passion. Your narrow focus ends up becoming detrimental to your success. People no longer want to contribute to something you have made about yourself rather than the team.

Passion helps when you “…see a domain but not the path. The fact that the path is not clearly defined is what excites them and motivates them…It also makes them alert to a variety of inputs that can help them to better understand the domain and discover more promising paths…They are constantly balancing the need to move forward with the need in the moment to reflect on their experiences.”

Your strength (passion) can be your downfall. While passion is the initial attraction for others to get involved, it may also turn them away if you are not receptive to their contributions. You must not waver on the goal, but the path needs to remain open-ended.



Making soup from stones is possible. Your bold idea is possible. Passion is a viable source of fuel in your endeavor if you properly use it. It is what will attract others towards helping your goals.

Being hard-headed and passionate will drive your idea straight into the ground. Your path to boldness is never known. You can establish a plan, schedule, budget, and scope, yet none of that matters because bold is something never done before. Lessons learned do not exist for bold. You are learning along the way.

Did the soldier know exactly how to make soup from stones? I doubt it. Yet, when the opportunity to add ingredients came about, he was ready to accept.

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