Sunday, September 19, 2010

Start with the Marshmallow

The reaction to this site has been pretty cool - 500 visits in the first week and lots of suggestions and contributions. Here is one tip I just received.

The learning experience which led me to found this site was the having kindergarten kids play the ball point game (yes, I really am going to write it up! promise!). Well, I'm not the only one trying out teamwork games, uh, simulations on both kids and adults.

Tom Wujec recently posted his experience on TED with the marshmallow challenge. It's a team exercise in which the participants have to build a tower using a supply of (dry) spaghetti, tape, string and marshmallow. The goal is build the highest structure possible within 18 minutes.

It turns out that recent Kindergarten grads do better than the average adults. Recent MBA's do worse than average adults, CEO's slightly better (than the kids), CEO's with an administrative assistant better still. (On the possibly mistaken assumption that the assistants are usually women, this confirms my own experience with the ball point game that groups with more than 30% women do much better than groups with few or no women). And many teams fail entirely.

Why do kids do better? They start working on the problem immediately, make several attempts to solve the problem (they iterate), and they do not create a pecking order in the group. The adults tended to look for the "single right plan" and tended to think about the marshmallow late in the process. They often produced only one actual prototype, just before the deadline (usually to watch it fall down shortly after the marshmallow is attached).

BTW - like Dan Pink, Wujec shows that financial incentives do not help people meet the challenge. Bonuses have their place, but not in creative work.

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