What Does “Making Stone Soup” Have to Do With Business Innovation?


A brief and visually-appealing book. Ideal for business owners, managers and team leaders who want to learn how to spark more business innovation during launch of a new product, service or company.

making stone soup

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If you were hungry and only had access to a large iron cauldron, stones, and water, would you be able to survive?

In a rather interesting tale, three soldiers managed to use those three items to “make soup”  everywhere they went.

How did they do it?

These soldiers would go to a town and put the stones in a cauldron of boiling water. Intrigued, the townspeople would offer to help the soldiers with whatever food and advice they could spare. By the time the townspeople were done, the soldiers had an incredibly delicious soup — and enough food for days!

This story shared in a book by Jeff DeGraff exemplifies the basic concept of “Making Stone Soup: How to Jumpstart Innovative Teams.”

DeGraff argues that most business innovation doesn’t develop with the lone, talented individual having an “Eureka” moment. Rather, most business innovation develops  through a collaboration of the right people with the right tension in their environment.

Using the stone soup story as a model, innovation came from a combination of the right people (hungry people desperate for food) and the right tension (social desire to help strangers).  In “Making Stone Soup”, DeGraff attempts to break down the individual variables that make up the ‘right people’ and the ‘right tension,’ so business owners can create an environment of innovation.

Finding Your Business Innovation Type

According to the author,  innovation is not a single variable. Instead, innovation comes in four flavors housed in a framework called the “Innovation Genome”: Collaborators, Connectors, Competitors, and Controllers. These four flavors represent characteristics of individual team members and characteristics of the business as a whole. So, you could be a “Connector” individual who works in a “Competitor” type company or the other way around.

Knowing your “type” is only half the battle, however. Business owners need to add in the right tension. That tension comes from balancing the types against each other, just like the yin-yang circle. Within each innovation type, DeGraff identifies key traits which happen to balance conveniently against each other.

As an example, “Collaborators” work best by smoothing out relationships within the team, while “Competitors” work best by pushing the team forward. One group in the team moves forward, while the other keeps the team steady.

Getting that balance is key. It is so vital, that DeGraff suggests that you look outside your company if you can’t find it within.

Innovation types aren’t the only thing discussed in the book. DeGraff also delves into the process of innovation. He outlines a simple strategy that guides a prospective team from start to finish on the process of innovation. This strategy focuses on uniquely focusing on specific targets and using your innovation “type” to reach that target.

Why You Need This Book

“Making Stone Soup” offers a different spin on the concept of innovation. Instead of looking outside the team to processes and procedures, DeGraff urges team leaders to look inside themselves and their team dynamics to find the innovation they need. This is definitely something business leaders can benefit from.

The book is upbeat and uplifting, perfectly geared to get every reader in the brainstorming mode that is required to be innovative.

“Making Stone Soup” is graphically appealing. That appeal is not just in the pictures included, but in the font and layout of the book itself. All of this is designed to create the mindset of innovation and creativity the book is trying to foster.

Who Should Read “Making Stone Soup”?

“Making Stone Soup” will be of special interest to people who love the psychology of teams and businesses. While this book offers advice that can be used by everyone, the book is especially designed for two types of small business managers at two critical points in their business development:

  • during the start-up phase
  • during the launch or start of a new product or service

The book offers invaluable advice that can be used to identify opportunities (especially internal opportunities) that might be missed.

On the other hand, the brevity of the book will probably be the biggest issue for those who want more. Although DeGraff goes into quite a bit of detail on the different types of innovation, he doesn’t really offer a lot of detailed examples or case studies that show how to use their “innovation genome” in a down-to-earth way.  A general guide is provided, but it can be hard to nail down exactly what to do.

Overall, though, if you want to be inspired to “become more innovative”, this book is a great place to start.

This review was based on a review copy of the book.

About the Author

Jeff DeGraff is a professor, author, and consultant who offers advice to businesses on productivity and innovation issues. His website can be found at @JeffDegraff and JeffDegraff.com. His book “Making Stone Soup: How to Jumpstart Innovation Teams” is available on Amazon.

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Charles Franklin Charles Franklin is a Book Reviewer for Small Business Trends. He has a background as a professional reviewer, and is also a content provider and customer relations professional.