Basic Instructions & Challenge
- Build the Tallest Freestanding Structure: The winning team is the one that has the tallest structure measured from the table top surface to the top of the marshmallow. That means the structure cannot be suspended from a higher structure, like a chair, ceiling or chandelier.
- The Entire Marshmallow Must be on Top: The entire marshmallow needs to be on the top of the structure. Cutting or eating part of the marshmallow disqualifies the team.
- Use as Much or as Little of the Kit: The team can use as many or as few of the 20 spaghetti sticks, as much or as little of the string or tape. The team cannot use the paper bag as part of their structure.
- Break up the Spaghetti, String or Tape: Teams are free to break the spaghetti, cut up the tape and string to create new structures.
- The Challenge Lasts 18 minutes: Teams cannot hold on to the structure when the time runs out. Those touching or supporting the structure at the end of the exercise will be disqualified.
- Ensure Everyone Understands the Rules: Don’t worry about repeating the rules too many times. Repeat them at least three times. Ask if anyone has any questions before starting.
Start the stop watch and play some fast pace music at the same time. Preferably from Pandora.
During the competition
- ✦Walk around the Room: It’s amazing to see the development of the structures as well as notice the patterns of innovation most teams follow.
- ✦Remind the Teams of the Time: Countdown the time. Usually, I call 12 minutes, 9 minutes (half-way through), 7 minutes, 5 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds and a ten-second count down.
- ✦Call Out How the Teams are Doing: Let the entire group know how teams are progressing. Call out each time a team builds a standing structure. Build a friendly rivalry. Encourage people to look around. Don’t be afraid to raise the energy and the stakes.
- ✦Remind the Teams that Holders will be Disqualified:Several teams will have the powerful desire to hold on to their structure at the end. Usually because the marshmallow, which they just placed onto their structure moments before, causing the structure to buckle. The winning structure needs to be stable.
Finishing the competition
- Measure the Structures: From the shortest standing structure to the tallest, measure and call out the heights. If you’re documenting the challenge, have someone record the heights.
- Identify the Winning Team: Ensure they get a standing ovation and a prize (if you’ve offered one).
- Wrap up with the Lessons of the Marshmallow Challenge:Deliver the attached presentation or just describe some of the key lessons of the marshmallow challenge:
What did we learn about towers, team work, and how might this relate to an 8th grade science class?
- Failure in science is giving up
- Failure of a design only shows us what does not work and is just as important as to what does work.
- don't let the concept defeat you
- Teamwork is vitally important
- Communication is vitally important
- there is more than one way to solve a problem
- Creativity is more important than knowledge - Einstein
- The only thing standing in your way is your attitude
- Observations of how people interact - there are team leaders, there are team players and there are lone wolves,
- Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened
- You get what you put into it.
Discuss things THEY learned
- Kids do Better than Business Students: On virtually every measure of innovation, kindergarteners create taller and more interesting structures.
- 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.