Spaghetti and Marshmallows and why kindergartners beat CEO’s in this task.

If you had to make a bet on which team could perform a certain task better between a group of kindergartners, or a group of business students amongst some of the top elite schools in the United States and abroad.  Who would you bet on?

Peter Skillman, an engineer, put together a competition to answer this question.  The task was simple.  He assembled groups of four people at several colleges and universities.  Their task was to see who which group could build the tallest possible structure using the following items:

  • twenty pieces of uncooked spaghetti
  • one yard of transparent tape
  • on yard of string
  • one standard size marshmallow

The contest had one rule.  The marshmallow had to be the final thing on top of the tower.

Who did you bet on?

The students took the approach of first tossing ideas back and forth.  They asked questions to each other.  They looked at several different options.  It was very strategic and professional.  They then decided on an approach.  Divided up the tasks and started building.

The kindergartners did something different.  They didnt strategize. They did not analyze anything or generate any ideas, or banter back and forth. Nope they stood amongst each other.  Grabbed the materials and started building.  No plan.  No strategy.  They started putting things together, and as they got in to it.  They would say to each other.  “Lets try this”.  “No, here”.  “Lets put that here.”

So who did you bet that would build the taller structure?

If you bet on the business school students, you are wrong. In dozens of trials, kindergartners built structures that average twenty-six inches tall, while the students from these universities average structure was about ten inches tall.

Teams of kindergartners not only consistently outperformed business school students, but they also conducted these same trials with lawyers and CEO’s.  The lawyers averaged fifteen inch structures and the CEO’s averaged twenty-two inches structures.

So how is it? and Why is it?  That kindergartners could outperform all of these highly educated and skilled groups of people?

The simple answer is that kindergartners:

  • Don’t have any egos.
  • They are not trying to prove their intelligence
  • They are not trying to be in charge.
  • They aren’t scared to speak up because they may be wrong.
  • They are not afraid to say no to each other.
  • They are not trying to adapt to any social norms.

Nope.  The kindergarteners are just looking at a task that they have been asked to do and just doing it.  Although the research doesn’t mention this, but maybe the kindgartners also have a better imagination.  They are not trying to put limits on themselves and say what can’t be done. Instead, they just try to do things.  This by itself leads to better outcomes, because if you aren’t willing to fail, which it doesn’t even cross the minds of these kindergartners, than you will never know what truly could be done.

In today’s world, probably as you are reading this.  You are on your way to work where either you, or someone you will work with today, will be trying to solve a problem.  Instead of trying to decide who is boss.  Or who should be doing this or that.  I would encourage you to instead take the same approach as the kindergartners did in this research and determine what is the best way to do this and forget everything else.

I know this is a hard ask.  But if we would all approach issues at work, or in our own personal lives this way, we would accomplish a lot more.  There would be less tension and conflict amongst our peers and in our own personal relationships.  And we would just be happier altogether.

See if you can approach life-like a kindergartner today and see how it works out for you.

To your success and your future.

You can watch the TED talk on this research here as well.

This entry was posted in business, Human Relations, lessons learned, personal development, self development and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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