The marshmallow challenge is a simple design exercise for small groups.
It requires essential skills kindergarten students naturally have, and business school students have forgotten.
It teaches valuable lessons on creativity and innovation.
The rules are easy; in 18 minutes, each group can use 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, and one yard of string, and one marshmallow to build the tallest structure with the marshmallow on the top.
The teams’ performance at the end of the exercise reveals some exciting lessons.
Who Performs Poorly?
Business school graduates tend to perform worse than other teams.
They try to come up with a single plan wasting most of their time.
In the end, they run out of time and rush through their plan. As a result, the structure collapses.
Who performs well?
Kindergarten students have excellent natural skills to solve the problem.
They don’t plan. They just build and build.
During their time, they come up with multiple designs. Many of the attempts collapse, but they learn about the problem and improve the solution.
What can we learn from this?
The exercise highlights the importance of prototyping and iterative design.
The marshmallow is much heavier than most people think.
Teams who attempt to put their marshmallow on the top at the last minute, assuming it’s light, usually see their structure collapse.
The marshmallow represents a false assumption that can remain hidden until the very last moment. Every project has its marshmallow, hidden challenges that nobody considers.
Many startups use iterative design to get to the market fast. First, they identify the minimum viable product containing only the essential functionalities of their imagined final product.
Check the best agile books article to learn how professionals create the very best products using iterative design.
Just give it a try
If you need to get your team thinking outside the box or encourage them to brainstorm about a new idea, have them partake in the 18-minute long marshmallow challenge.
Just check out how to run the marshmallow challenge for detailed instructions.
The exercise was invented by Peter Skillman of Palm, Inc. and popularized by Tom Wujec of Autodesk.