Oct 112011

Remember the old folktale about stone soup? Here’s how Wikipedia relates it:

Some travellers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travellers. So the travellers go to the neck of the stream and fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travellers answer that they are making “stone soup”, which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with just a little bit of carrot to help them out, so it gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travellers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.

Does the story remind you of anything? How about social product development?

There are quite a number of companies doing their own version of stone soup these days. Off the top of my head, I can think of GrabCAD, Local Motors, Quirky, The LEGO CL!CK Community, Innocentive, Instructables, and Thingiverse. I’ve probably missed a dozen or two other truly high profile projects, and hundreds of smaller projects.

Each of these projects has lessons to teach. But none of them cover the entire range of the new product development process—from the fuzzy front end to commercialization. They each start with a lot of cabbage in the soup. (Sorry about the strained metaphor there.)

Something I’ve been mulling over recently is this: What is the best way to make stone soup? That is, if you wanted to build a best-in-class hyper-social product development business—incorporating the best ideas in co-creation and open innovation—what people, processes and resources would you want to have?