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.

What I was thinking four years ago… and a few lessons to remember

This morning, I did something that I don’t do nearly as often as I should. I pulled out my journals from four years ago. I am trying to make this a habit, but it is something that I just don’t get around to as much as I want.

A few observations from these notes that I have.  At the time I of these notes I was in a bit of a challenging situation.  I was performing a job that wasn’t actually my job at the time.

Lesson here:  Always be willing to help when needed, but don’t let anybody or any employer take advantage of you.

In this interim role I was performing, I had the chance to work with a lot of people who I don’t normally work with.  This group of people, which included a few different departments, managers, staff, etc., were all meeting and discussing procedural issues and challenges. I sat in countless meetings during this time.

Lesson here: Most of the time companies have pretty sound or decent processes.  It is usually the people and the personalities involved in the processes that are causing the most problems. Strong leadership is required.

During these countless meetings I was involved in.  It seemed to me that most of the participants pointed out the flaws in the others sides processes and follow-up.  Very rarely did either side admit that they were at fault.

Lesson here: It is easy to point out another persons, or another departments (which includes people) faults.  But, you have to take some responsibility yourself, the other side can’t always have 100% of the fault.

How many times have you heard someone tell you “I am doing the best I can?”  And deep down in your heart, you know they are capable of so much more?  Whether they can or they can’t do better, it is not important.  It is their attitude that is telling you that they aren’t doing the best they can.  Attitude determines most successes and failure.

Lesson here: You can’t just do the best you can, you have to do everything you can.

How many times have you taken the easy way out?  How many times have you watched someone else take the easy way out?  I get it. It is called the easy way out, because it is easy and doesn’t require much effort, time, money, etc. from whoever is pursuing it. However, what usually happens when we take the easier approach?  My experience tells me this.

Looking at my journal writings some four years ago. I now have the data to support why the easy way out is never the best. If you are looking to hire, and you decide to go with the person who has been around the longest, has the most experience, has done a great job, etc. Just because they have all of this going for them, doesn’t mean that they are going to be the best for this new position, especially if the person has never demonstrated leadership, and you are looking for a leader.  They may have been a leader by title, but did they demonstrate leadership?  Which includes doing what is hard, pushing things forward, having a vision for the future, challenging people, processes, and thinking even when it isn’t the popular thing to do.

Lesson here: If you decide to take the easy approach, be prepared to do more work in the long run. Be prepared to not get as far as you want individually or as a company, because the easy approach is very rarely the best approach.

The final lesson in my short look in my past was this.

Doing little things makes a big difference.  Saying hello to someone even when they don’t say it to you.  Getting a card for someone for their birthday.  Sending a text to someone just to tell them to have a great day.  I am sure we do all of these things for our families and close friends, but what if you did these little things for the people who don’t expect us to do anything for them?   This is where you can make a big difference in people’s lives and truly have an impact.

To your success and your future.


Lift someone up today

I have heard this before and so have you.

  • Zig Ziglar said:  Be helpful. When you see a person without a smile, give them yours. 
  • Be careful placing judgment upon others, for you know not what battles they are fighting.

I was reminded of these two simple statements last night.  A person in our class came in late, which was not normal for them.  They contributed some, but not as much as they usually do.  But they showed up and stuck it out for the entire class.

We ended the class with an exercise where we have the participants write their name at the top of a 3 X 5 index card.  Then they take that card and hand it to someone else. Now the class participant has to take the 3 x 5 index card with one of the other participants name on it and write something about them that they have noticed about them that is unique, positive, and that the individual might not see in themselves.  Now there are about 20 people in the class. So over the last 6 weeks every Monday for roughly 3.5 hours, we all have been together.  So we have developed a lot of relationships and we all know each other fairly well.

This little exercise is probably one of my favorite that we do in this course.  Who doesn’t like to be told something positive about themselves.  Sometimes the participants get overwhelmed with emotion during this exercise.

So going back to the class participant.  This person had a bad day at work.  It was very clear.  I am not sure what exactly happened, but they were different.  So this one little exercise we did, and the 3 x 5 index card with the positive note about them on it, changed their day.  How do I know this?  They told us.  They told us how much they appreciated it after the day they had.

So what can you do today?  This is a pretty simple act that any of us can do. So who in your life needs this kind of appreciation, acknowledgement, encouragement?  Who can you send a note to?  Who is going through something right now, that needs some pick me up?  I would encourage you to be like Zig Ziglar states, lift someone up.



Say my name, Say my name

Destiny’s Child has a song by this title.  And I think the song has something to do with a boyfriend not calling his girl by her name nor is he calling her baby like he used to, and she is upset thinking he is cheating or something. I am not an expert on music, especially the lyrics.  But what I do know is that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language as Dale Carnegie states in his 30 Human Relation principles.

I found this to be true in my life as well.  If I go to the grocery and I use the cashiers name, they act differently. They smile, they are courteous. Also, if I am at a restaurant and I make it a point to have a conversation with the server and I use their name over and over throughout our interactions over the course of the meal, I get better service. When I remember and use a person’s name that I met months or even years ago, it makes a huge impression on them.

In all of these interactions by using and remembering a person’s name, I am telling them that they are important and that I do care about them.  In society today, we need more of these kinds of interactions.

How often do we grow through the day and say hey, you, we, them, or just deliberately not use a person’s name because we didn’t take the time to ask them their name and remember it.

So here is a quick guide to remembering a person’s name.

1.  Ask.

Yes! Take the time to ask a person their name.  I prefer servers to have a name tag on, because I can start using it immediately.  But if they don’t have one, just ask them their name.

2.  Once you ask it, remember it. 

I prefer the old method of repetition.  Once a person tells me their name, I say it 10 times in my head. 90% of the time this works.  I also will write it down.

3.  Rhyme/features

Association.  There are multiple ways of doing this, but I am kind of weird in that I like to use a rhyming word that just makes sense with their name.  There are certain words that we all have a natural proclivity to tying to another word, usually because they rhyme with each other.  Watch Family Feud and you will see that they ask this question a lot.  What is a word that rhymes with ______?  And usually the contestants get most of the answers correct. You also associate a person with physical impressions.  Like Fred has a big head. Or short person and think of a word that will allow you to remember their name tied with their height. I like to use a MIC with people’s name that are Mike.  Seems goofy, but it works.  I just picture a big microphone and them saying something in it, then it is ingrained in my head.

Some of you are saying this seems like a lot of work!  Is it really?  Secondly, how much do you care about having better relationships, making more money, and showing someone else that you care enough to remember their name?

Brian Willett