Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Prototyping Wins

A team of MBAs, lawyers, CEOs and kindergarteners are pitted against each other in a game of problem solving. Each group is given 20 spaghetti sticks, a piece of string, a yard of tape, and a marshmallow. The goal is to build the tallest, freestanding spaghetti tower that can support a marshmallow roof, within 18 minutes.

The majority of the room starts by putting in their two cents, listing credentials and wrestling for the position of top dog. After the chest beating is done, work begins on the design. How many pieces of spaghetti, where does the string and tape go, and so on.

With only a few minutes to go, the tower is haphazardly put together and the marshmallow is plopped on top. 

While this process can produce working structures, it rarely wins contestants the competition.

As you can guess, the kids build far more original and taller towers than the adults. 

Because unlike grown-ups, kids spend zero time on becoming CEO of Spaghetti Inc, as inventor of the marshmallow challenge, Tom Wujec, calls it. 

What’s more, the kindergarteners begin with the marshmallow and watch how many spaghetti sticks it takes to keep the sugary treat in the air. The base breaks down? No problem, plenty of time to try a new design.

Now you know the least educated do best, can you guess who performs the worst?

That’s right, the MBAs. 

Much of our education is spent teaching students the right answer. Thousands of tests have carved the idea of a single right answer into the college graduate’s brain.

The trouble with being taught binary thinking is that life is ambiguous. There are countless right answers. 

So next time you’re faced with a challenge, or you’re asked to answer to a problem, look for multiple answers. As the French philosopher Émile Chartier said, “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only one we have.”

P.S. If you’re interested in setting up the marshmallow challenge for your friends and colleagues, visit www.marshmallowchallenge.com.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach