Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.” – Tom Peters


Ben is a charismatic leader in his organisation and he and his team are working on a proposal for one of the company’s biggest clients who are looking for a rejuvenated leading edge, marketing plan. After the last strategy meeting with his team, they were not satisfied with the level of innovation and creativity of their proposal. To reignite the teams innovative and creative abilities, Ben decides to have the team participate in a challenge he engaged in at University.

The marshmallow challenge is a simple design exercise for small groups that requires the combination of skills of a preschooler and a business school student. The rules are easy; in 18 minutes, each group can use 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, and one yard of string (91.44cm), and one marshmallow to build the tallest structure with the marshmallow on the top.

Ben recalls that this challenges was a fantastic team building exercise and believes it will assist his team to explore their creativity and increase their appetite for innovation. At their next meeting Ben places the material needed to conduct this challenge on two separate tables, assigns two teams and issues instructions. After covering the details he sets the timer and with enthusiasm vibrating in his voice declares the commencement of the challenge.

A few moments in, Ben witnesses the different interactions between the two teams. In their attempt to find the single right plan to execute, Team A kicks off their challenge by sketching out their structure on a notepad and weighs in on the pros and cons of their structure . Team B, launches straight into building their structure, producing a variety of designs, always keeping the marshmallow on top, assessing glitches and improving their design on the go.

At the end of the 18 minutes, explorative team B has built a structure that is firmly supporting their marshmallow at the top. While in the rush to finish their plan, frustrated Team A places their marshmallow at the top of their structure and watches it to collapse. Thoroughly enjoying this experience Ben thanks his team for their eagerness and follows it up with a debrief for insights and how they apply what they learnt at work in future.

The debrief yielded the following: Team A used most of their time to prepare a detailed design before building. Team B’s explorative approach allowed for new ideas to be tested dynamically which provided instant feedback for re-designing and building their structure. While Team A’s approach was based on designing a single perfect solution that will anticipate all the risks involved, they could not prove the efficacy of their design within the time constraint.

With these new insights, Ben and his team agreed that for the benefit of their proposal and future work opportunities, they would be daring enough to test and refine their ideas with a sense of adventure and the freedom to fail to fail in order to find new paths to success.

Where can you use what Ben and his team have learned about testing and refining ideas in your week?

 Visit our gallery of tried, tested and successful ideas

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