The Marshmallow Challenge


by: Nahel Jarmakani

The goal of the Marshmallow Challenge is to build the highest-standing structure within 20 minutes by providing teams of 4 with 20 sticks of pasta, a yard of tape, a yard of string, and a marshmallow. Simple, right? The teams that did best were the Engineers & Architects and the Kindergarten students. The teams that did worst include CEOs and business students.

Let’s observe the characteristics of the successful teams. The engineers and architects had the technical background to understand the required geometric shapes that allow a structure to be built well. The kindergarten students started with the marshmallows and iteratively created prototypes. Consequently, they failed a number of times throughout the process and modified their ideas with each failure, which resulted in having high and stable structures when time ran out. On the other hand, teams who had gone through undergrad in business spent their time planning, discussing and jostling for power to the point that when the time ran out, they entered a point of crisis and ended up failing.

So, what can we learn from this exercise?

1. Learn by doing: As leaders, we have to recognize that there is no one perfect plan that will bring perfect success. It is very important to not be afraid to fail — fail early and fail fast, but learn faster.
2. “Leadership” does not mean having power over others; those political games create a disharmony in the group and thus waste time.
3. A great litmus test for your leadership skills!

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