4 Ways That Stone Soup is a Metaphor for “Ultbook”

The more I refine the business cases in the beta release of the Sustainability Advantage Ultbook, the more I appreciate that it is Stone Soup. Before outlining the 4 ways that Stone Soup is a metaphor for Ultbook, here is a quick refresher on the Stone Soup story.

Once upon a time, there was a great war that devastated many farmers’ properties and crops. Even when the war was over, people jealously hoarded whatever food they could find, hiding it even from their friends and neighbors. One day shortly after the war ended, a kindly old soldier on his trek home came into a village and inquired about a warm place to stay for the night and the possibility of a meal.

“There’s not a bite to eat in the whole province,” he was told. “You’d better move on.”

“Oh, I have everything I need,” he said. “In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with all of you.” He pulled an iron cauldron from his wagon, filled it with water, and built a fire under it in the town square. Then, with great ceremony, he drew an ordinary-looking stone from a velvet bag and dropped it into the water.

By now, hearing the rumor of food, most of the villagers had come to the square or watched from their windows. As the stranger sniffed the “broth” and licked his lips in anticipation, hunger began to overcome their skepticism.

“Aah,” the soldier said to himself rather loudly, “I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage – that’s hard to beat.”

Soon a villager approached hesitantly, holding a cabbage he’d retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot. “Capital!” cried the soldier. “You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of salt beef as well, and it was fit for a king.”

The village butcher managed to find some salt beef . . . and so it went, through potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and so on, until there was indeed a delicious meal for all.

The villagers offered the soldier a great deal of money for the magic stone, but he refused to sell it and traveled on the next day. As he left, the stranger came upon a group of village children standing near the road. He gave the velvet bag containing the stone to the youngest child, whispering to the group, “It was not the stone, but the villagers who performed the magic.”

Sustainability Advantage Ultimate Workbook (a.k.a. Ultbook) is my new book. It is written as a comprehensive fill-in-the-blanks Excel workbook and provides tailored frameworks for assessing the business case for any sustainability initiative. There are five ways that Stone Soup is a metaphor for Ultbook.

  1. The magic stone: Ultbook’s Excel formulas are the magic stone. They are the recipes for a delicious result … if quality ingredients are added.
  2. The ingredients: As they say in the IT sector, GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. Often it’s not the program that is at fault, it’s the quality of the input. The soup ingredients are the company data and credible assumptions that ensure that the soup / business case is robust and of high quality.
  3. The villagers: The villagers are the company’s managers and executives who are hesitant to share their ingredients / data and knowledge with strangers. Knowledge is power and leaders have learned to be leery of requests to share it. It’s a trust issue. They want to know what the requester will do with the data and what’s in it for them to provide the essential ingredients. When they understand that the company profile data and their experienced assumptions will improve the quality of the resulting decision-making resource, they are more likely to contribute them.
  4. The kindly old soldier: He is the internal or external sustainability champion who knows that the resulting soup (i.e. business case) will only be as good as its ingredients (i.e. data and assumptions) provided by the villagers themselves (i.e. company leaders). He had a basic recipe of possible ingredients / business case elements in mind and tailored it to the situation. He engaged the villagers in creating the soup so that they knew how tasty it would be and they trusted its quality.

Ultbook is not an answer sheet. It does not provide a business case on a platter any more than the soldier provided soup in a can. Thank goodness. It is a tool, a resource, a framework for a conversation with decision makers. It is not the Ultbook spreadsheets but the business leaders who provide the magic as they co-create the compelling justification for their company doing more on pressing environmental and social issues. In the end, it’s not my business case and it’s not yours; it’s theirs. Perfect.


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