The Marshmallow Challenge
Recently, I was asked to facilitate a warm-up session. I thought well “let’s do something fun”! They’re needing to be warmed up afterall.
I have a background in research and development. I’ve worked as a paint chemist for years and innovation is what laboratory people do as well as architects, software deisgners, business people in general. happened to come across this challenge called “The Marshmallow Challenge”. Perfect!
What is The Marshmallow Challenge?
The MarshMallow Challenge requires:
Teams of 4
Aim to Build the Tallest Free Standing Structure with the marshmallow at the top
Your kits have:
20 stickes of spaghetti
You need to deliver Clear Instructions
Build the Tallest Freestanding Structure
The winning team is the one that has the tallest structure measured from the table to the top of the marshmallow
NO suspending from a higher structure
The Entire Marshmallow must be on the top
No cutting up or eating the marshmallow
Use as much or as little of the kit as you wish
Can breakup the spaghetti, string or tape
Challenge last for 18mins
Teams cannot hold onto the structure if the time runs out
Does everyone understand the rules?
Finishing requires: Measuring the structures and identifying the winning team.
Lessons from the Creators:
Kids do Better than Business Students: On virtually every measure of innovation, kindergarteners create taller and more interesting structures. Kids test things out using an iterative process – they get feedback on what works and what doesn’t.
Prototyping Matters: The reason kids do better than business school students is kids spend more time playing and prototyping. They naturally start with the marshmallow and stick in the sticks. The Business School students spend a vast amount of time planning, then executing on the plan, with almost no time to fix the design once they put the marshmallow on top.
The Marshmallow is a Metaphor for the Hidden Assumptions of a Project: The assumption in the Marshmallow Challenge is that marshmallows are light and fluffy and easily supported by the spaghetti sticks. When you actually try to build the structure, the marshmallows don’t seem so light.
The lesson in the marshmallow challenge is that we need to identify the assumptions in our project – the real customer needs, the cost of the product, the duration of the service – and test them early and often. That’s the mechanism that leads to effective innovation.
To finish, this is an absolutely fantastic warm-up exercise. Can be done with small groups upto 800! It gets people working together, into a creative mindset and focused. Its great fun too so is a real team building exercise. Enjoy!