My grandma told me a story about an early winter afternoon during the Depression in her small Ontario village. A drifter had come into town, and been asking for food to eat. Times were tough, no one would share. So he let it be known that he’d be making a big pot of delicious stone soup for all in the town centre later that evening.
Basically just water with a rock in it, right?
Word got out and at around supper the townsfolk gathered for a bit of a laugh and a spectacle. They watched this drifter build a fire under his pot and add some water. Then he asked whether anyone could bring him a large rock. The children were first to oblige, and he rejected 2 for being too small, one for being too round, and one for being too large. The fifth rock was declared perfect and into the pot it went.
The water began to steam and the wanderer had a taste. “Needs a bit of salt.” And a townsperson ran off to fetch some. Another taste. “Distinctly lacking onion”. An onion materialized, was peeled, chopped, and submerged. “Would be better with potato”. Someone shuffled forward with a small sack of earthy tubers. “And celery”. A bunch was handed over heads onto the chopping board. And so it went, the drifter calling for ingredients, the town finding them in their previously barren cellars.
Within the hour a big pot of simmering stone soup was ready to share, and the gathered happily slurping as the sun set.
Three ingredients to create relevant value with your community
One of the best things about being part of a community is building together. One of the hallmarks of a successful one is the ability to build what the community needs using what’s in the community. An uninvited gift is often less appreciated and valued than the giver expects because in some ways it reflects a failure of the community.
As a community leader looking to create relevant value with your community (or a drifter looking to make soup), you’ll need three ingredients.
An understanding of the shared goals of the community members
The townspeople in my grandma’s story wanted to eat, have a good time, and take care of their own. What does your community want to accomplish, both collectively and as individuals? What forums have you provided to find out about those goals? Have you reflected those goals back to them for feedback and validation? Any opportunity to find out what your community members want for themselves and the larger group is time well spent.
I’m organizing a community event, and as part of the event intake process sent a survey for attendees to complete with some pointed questions about potential roadblocks and misunderstandings they see. I tagged their responses and used them to create the content of the event.
A catalogue of unique resources within the community
The people in your group know and have things that are not present in that combination anywhere else. Things like skills, experience, roles, relationships, assets, and all types of capital. I’m not saying you need to keep an exhaustive running list; I’m saying find out what you can about the group and what they want to share with one another. Take note of what they do and say, and what they seem excited or passionate about.
One of the mom’s in my daughter’s class works at a local brewery. She says she doesn’t want to get too involved with the parents and citizens association, but would happily supply cheap beer at school fundraisers.
Meaningful opportunities to the resources in your community in service of their goals
This where creativity comes in and transforms a drifter with a rock into a chef and host. As a leader you need to be on the look out for opportunities to apply the community’s resources to specific, point-in-time activities that align with the communities goals. Maybe that is removing a specific roadblock, or making a skill more widespread, or creating information, or investigating a mystery.
There are people in one of the communities I’m involved with with diverse titles and roles. Knowing that many of them are interested in finding out how other community members work, I made pairs of people who had expressed interest in each other’s areas and provided them with a set of guided activities to learn from each other.
What kind of soup will you make?
Latent in your community is the knowlege of what it needs and resources to build towards that. The problems, challenges, and gaps that affect a portion of the community are where we get to combine knowledge and resources to make… soup.