The stage was set. It was parents vs heroes. Who would win? Conventional wisdom said the parents should have easily beat the heroes. It turns out the exact opposite was true!
The challenge, if you don’t know it, is a fun and instructive design exercise that encourages teams to experience simple but profound lessons in collaboration, innovation and creativity.
The challenge seems simple enough: small teams have to build a structure in 18 minutes using 20 sticks of spaghetti, 1 yard of tape, 1 yard of string and 1 marshmallow. The winning team is the one that can construct the tallest freestanding structure with the marshmallow on top within the time allowed. The point of the exercise is to collaborate very quickly in order to respond to the task. It reveals some surprising lessons about the nature of collaboration.
I had the the prior knowledge that our youngest group of heroes (age 5-7) had time and again proven they would beat CEOs of fortune 500 companies, so it was extra special to watch this play out in front of our eyes.
The challenge has been done hundreds of times across the country and the results are intriguing.
Who performs poorly?
Recent business school graduates. Why? They cheat and get distracted. They try to find the single correct plan and then attempt to execute that. They run out of time and when they put the marshmallow on top, it’s a crisis. Sound familiar?
Who performs well?
Kindergarten kids. Why? First of all, none of the kids spend time trying to become CEO of Spaghetti Inc.! More importantly, they start with the marshmallow and then build successive prototypes, all the time keeping the marshmallow on top until they find a solution that works.
The lesson learned from all this fun? The capacity to experiment and prototype is essential to success. (aka trial and error)
Younger children tend to be more collaborative and prototype their way to success. Notice our youngest heroes started with the Marshmallow on their structure immediately. This is a key to success and something that is a common thread when completed all across the country with Kindergarteners
Adults tend to start building right away, only to rush to finish at as time is called and throw the marshmallow on time, only to see their structure immediately collapse. This is exactly what happened with our challenge as well!
Our Findings With Our Experiment
Our youngest heroes won! They build the strongest and tallest tower.
What Can We Learn From This?
We all want to avoid the uh-oh moment when the marshmallow causes the structure to collapse. The Marshmallow Challenge teaches us that prototyping and iterating can help achieve success. It also shows that success is dependent upon close collaboration between team members. ALL things we encourage and work on at Acton Academy Lincoln.
As we saw with The Marshmallow Challenge, learning at Acton Academy Lincoln is much like a contact sport – you have to get your sleeves rolled up and get stuck in. Collaboration helps get everyone involved in the process right from the start so you can reach that ta-da! moment at the end.
By getting started and focusing on iterating the process, we can implement what works and quickly throw out what doesn’t work. This approach ensures that when we reach the end of the project, the marshmallow is sitting firmly on top. This is Acton through and through.