One of the ways we got the delegates to engage with each other at the Rural Cultural Business Innovation Programme, was through the Marshmallow Challenge. I love it. It makes me laugh every time I see it run.
It is quite simple. Each group, it is essential that there several people in the group, has at their disposal, a yard of string, a yard of masking tape, twenty pieces of spaghetti and a marshmallow. The aim of the challenge is to build a structure from the stuff that will keep standing for a minute and has the marshmallow on the top.
I love it for a number of reasons. Firstly it gets people engaged in working together. People forget why they have come to the session and become fully immersed in the challenge. Nearly everyone is competitive and throws themselves into the task with all of their effort. The prestige of having the biggest tower is too much for people to avoid. People laugh and groan as things go wrong and whoop in delight as their structure rises from the table.
Secondly it shows how humans, especially adults, fall into their traditional roles. They agree an idea and get on with it. They jockey for position with one person usually taking ‘charge’ and others subscribe to more subservient roles. They rarely change their approach to building but rather focus on bolstering up and strengthening their original design. They put the marshmallow on the top right at the end.
In the end though most of the towers fail immediately. They are simply not structurally sound.
There are two groups of people though who really excel at the challenge, structural engineers (thankfully) and children. The first succeed as they understand triangles and robust structures. The children succeed because they are not constrained by convention. They experiment wildly with differing prototypes and nearly always start with the marshmallow on top.
And this is the point of the challenge. It is through experience brought about by prototyping and failure that we learn.
You can find out more about the Marshmallow Challenge here.