16 February, 2017

The Traveler from Stone Soup - The Secret to Design Thinking by Jared M. Spool

This article was originally published by Jared M. Spool as Shh! Don’t Tell Them There’s No Magic In Design Thinking. I am reposting a part of the article - an inspiring story titled, 'The Traveler from Stone Soup' here.

[As written by Jared M. Spool]

The magical powers that people assign to Design Thinking reminds me of an old Eastern European folk tale. The story takes place at a time when walking was the only way to travel from one village to the next (before horses were invented). In that time, it was traditional to offer visitors to your village scraps of food to replenish their hunger after such a long walk.

Source: www.expectmiraculous.com

One traveler, upon arriving at a new town, knocked on the door of the first house he saw. However, despite the tradition, the homeowner didn’t offer any food. She explained that they were experiencing a drought and barely had enough food to feed their own family. They couldn’t spare a scrap.

Every house the traveler visited had the same story. It was a drought and there was no extra food.

When the traveler reached the center of town, he decided he needed to make something for himself. He took out his pots, started a little fire, and set up to cook himself some dinner.

He reached into his bag and pulled out a round stone. He set the stone in the bottom of the pot and started stirring. A crowd of villagers started to form.

“What are you doing?” a curious villager asked.

“I’m making Stone Soup,” the traveler responded.

“You can make a soup out of stone?” asked the villager.

“Yes, but a little water makes it better.”

“I have a little water in my well,” said another villager. He then ran off and fetched the water. The water was added to the pot and the traveler resumed his stirring.

“What will it taste like?” a villager new to the scene asked.

“Well, it would taste better with some carrots.” Upon hearing this another villager ran to his house to grab a few carrots from his garden.

Then another villager offered up some other vegetables he’d salvaged from his garden. And a woman mentioned she had some meat scraps on her pantry.

“All of it would make the soup even better,” said the traveler. Off they all went to grab what they had.

Soon the pot was filled with a lovely large stew. The traveler graciously shared his dinner with the villagers. Everybody had a grand time eating the Stone Soup.

After the festive evening, as the traveler was packing up to head on his way, he thanked everyone for helping.

“As a repayment for your kindness and generosity,” the traveler announced, “I’d like to give your village the gift of this stone. So, you can keep making soup even when you have a drought upon you.” The villagers all cheered with delight.

They thanked the traveler profusely as he made his way out of town. He continued on his way.

When the traveler was a few miles out of the town, he looked down at the road and spotted a lovely round stone. He picked it up and admired it for second. Then he dropped it into his bag and continued on his way with a smile on his face.

What Does the Traveler Think?

Design Thinking is our stone. When we apply Design Thinking, we bring the entire organization together to collaboratively solve big problems.

Yet, to me, that’s not the important lesson from the story. The lesson I take away is that, at no time during the story, do we believe that the traveler thinks the stone makes soup.

Instead, the traveler sees that the villagers need their thinking reframed. They have enough food to eat, if only they worked together. The stone isn’t magical. It’s a device.

Maybe the villagers believe the stone makes soup? Maybe a smart villager or two see what the traveler did? But at no time did the traveler himself ever believe the stone made soup. He’d starve if he did.

As design professionals, we shouldn’t let ourselves think there’s any magic in Design Thinking. Our teams, stakeholders, and executives can believe in it, but we shouldn’t. To do so would be to depend on Design Thinking having magic and such magic doesn’t really exist.

That’s the design professional’s secret. Shh! Don’t tell them!