Kindergarteners consistently beat business students and other professional adults in the simple, but revealing, Marshmallow Challenge.
The Marshmallow Challenge is a team exercise that asks groups of four to build the tallest freestanding structure in 18 minutes using only 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string and one marshmallow – which must be at the top of the structure.
Tom Wujec, a Fellow with Autodesk, says, “I believe the Marshmallow Challenge is among the fastest and most powerful techniques for improving a team’s capacity to generate fresh ideas, build rapport and incorporate prototyping – all of which lie at the heart of effective innovation.”
The Marshmallow Challenge has been conducted by tens of thousands of people in every continent, from the CFOs of the Fortune 50 to students at all levels. The lessons learned are universal.
What can the high performers – among them are the kindergartners as well as architects and engineers – teach your company about how teams collaborate when innovation is required?
The least successful tend to spend a lot of time planning and then begin executing only to put the marshmallow on in the last few minutes, assuming it will be light enough. Often, these structures topple – the team has been blinded by their assumption about the marshmallow’s weight. Hmmmmm… don’t most creative projects seem to have hidden assumptions that trip us up in the eleventh hour?
The most successful teams learn how to build the structure by just doing it. They jump quickly into building prototypes to test out their ideas, which gives them immediate feedback. Using an iterative process, they can quickly discard what isn’t working and embrace what is – resulting in: success!
Lessons for your teams:
- Are you spending more time planning than playing with concepts to test them out?
- Does your team become more committed to “the plan” than to finding a process that works best?
- Are you allowing your team members to get their hands dirty with the process so that they can learn by doing?
- Are you rooting out hidden assumptions that may come out of “nowhere” and upend your project?
- Are you encouraging your team members to raise the bar on innovation by using all of their senses, in additional to thinking, feeling and doing?
If you want to spark a greater level of innovation on your teams, Tom Wujec’s TED Talk video is a worthwhile way to spend 6 or so minutes of your time. And be sure to visit http://www.marshmallowchallenge.comfor more details, including full instructions, many photos and a blog.