Ming the Mechanic:
The Magical Soup Stone

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 The Magical Soup Stone2003-01-01 18:12
picture by Flemming Funch

Do you know the old fairy tale about the magical soup stone? It exists in many versions. Like, a Swedish one, a Japanese version, the Shel Silverstein song, and many more. In brief, a mysterious stranger comes to town, and he claims that he has a magical stone that you can cook soup with again and again. Everybody is really incredulous. But, to prove it, he puts it in a pot of boiling water. And the soup cooks, and it is coming along fine, he declares, but, hm... maybe a little bit of spices would make it just a bit better. So, somebody goes and gets him some spices. And the soup is cooking great. The bystanders are fascinated. But... maybe some potatoes and some carots would top it off just great. And the soup is just about done, but, hm... maybe a bit of meat and some flour would just round off the experience really well. And so forth, it goes on like that for a while... And, the villagers are amazed - the most wonderful soup has been cooked, and they have a great feast together, enjoying and celebrating the magical stone soup.

Superficially you might think it is a story about a con artist who tricks people into giving him the ingredients, while he takes the credit, and gets fed for free. But how I find it inspiring is how it is also a great pattern for how to make things happen starting absolutely from scratch. Most particularly, this works well in a very connected virtual world. The thing is that most of the resources and knowledge needed to do anything is available somewhere out there. You don't necessarily have to legally possess it yourself before you get started. Sometimes it just takes somebody who stands up and declares "Let's make soup!" and who keeps the magic going, while people bring resources to the table.

I've seen it a number of times on the Internet. If you sort of hang up a sign and start to publically inquire into a certain subject, the ingredients will start arriving. The people who actually are experts will come out of the woodwork. Knowledge will start to accummulate. Resources will appear. And it often depends on one, or a few people, who keep the magic in the air while things are coming together. They might have nothing but the idea or the desire to start with. But people will bring what is missing, and along the way there is plenty of opportunity for becoming an expert in soup.

But it doesn't work without the magical soup stone. People, expertise and resources don't necessarily come together by themselves, without a strong continuous intention and a bit of showey magic. It takes a catalyst.

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