Kellogg | Mr. Danish Raised, US Based
GMAT 710, GPA 10.6 out of 12
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBB to PM
GRE 338, GPA 4.0
Chicago Booth | Mr. Semiconductor Guy
GMAT 730, GPA 3.3
Harvard | Mr. Polyglot
GMAT 740, GPA 3.65
Wharton | Mr. Sr. Systems Engineer
GRE 1280, GPA 3.3
Darden | Ms. Unicorn Healthcare Tech
GMAT 730, GPA 3.5
Tuck | Mr. Consulting To Tech
GMAT 750, GPA 3.2
Stanford GSB | Mr. Rocket Scientist Lawyer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.65 Cumulative
Stanford GSB | Mr. Navy Officer
GMAT 770, GPA 4.0
Darden | Mr. Stock Up
GMAT 700, GPA 3.3
Stanford GSB | Mr. Classic Candidate
GMAT 760, GPA 3.9
Cambridge Judge Business School | Mr. Social Scientist
GRE 330, GPA 3.5
Darden | Mr. Federal Consultant
GMAT 780, GPA 3.26
INSEAD | Mr. Consulting Fin
GMAT 730, GPA 4.0
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Enlisted Undergrad
GRE 315, GPA 3.75
INSEAD | Ms. Hope & Goodwill
GMAT 740, GPA 3.5
Harvard | Mr. Milk Before Cereals
GMAT 710, GPA 3.3 (16/20 Portuguese scale)
Chicago Booth | Mr. Guy From Taiwan
GRE 326, GPA 3.3
Darden | Mr. Leading Petty Officer
GRE (MCAT) 501, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Mr. Sales To Consulting
GMAT 760, GPA 3.49
Columbia | Mr. NYC Native
GMAT 710, GPA 3.8
Tepper | Mr. Leadership Developement
GMAT 740, GPA 3.77
Harvard | Ms. Athlete Entrepreneur
GMAT 750, GPA 3.3
Darden | Mr. Education Consulting
GRE 326, GPA 3.58
Harvard | Ms. Ambitious Hippie
GRE 329, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Unrealistic Ambitions
GMAT 710, GPA 2.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. Equal Opportunity
GMAT 760, GPA 4.0

How Spaghetti & Marshmallows Are Being Used To Teach Creative Problem Framing At Haas

Haas Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman

Today’s class exercise is simple, if not a little unusual for a class that is part of the core MBA curriculum.

At UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman explains to 30 MBA students the rules. Each team of five students must build the tallest free standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of blue tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. They have all of 18 minutes to get it done.

The Marshmallow Challenge is just one exercise of more than a dozen in Beckman’s novel “Problem Finding, Problem Solving” course, which was added to the core curriculum two years ago as part of a revamping to focus more on innovative leadership. In the curriculum overhaul, a pair of existing core courses, Leading People and Leadership Communications, had been restructured to offer additional leadership skills, such as the ability to influence others. And then this course was added to the core to address what Beckman calls “the underlying skill sets that are missing in a typical MBA education.”


Beckman’s course, taken while students are grappling with such basics as accounting, finance and marketing, introduces MBAs to the innovation process, drawing upon academic research in critical thinking, systems thinking and creative problem solving. It’s a long way from learning discounted cash flow analysis or the ins and outs of an income statement or a balance sheet.

Instead, MBAs learn to use visualization techniques and metaphors to more effectively brainstorm ideas. They learn the value of storytelling in innovation, along with frameworks to extract insights from “messy data,” as Beckman puts it. And they learn to be open to experimentation and rapid testing.

Many schools have exposed MBA students to some of these concepts before. And Haas has taught design thinking, a key part of this new class, for nearly 20 years. But what makes this course unusual is that it brings together a lot of modern-day leadership and innovation thinking in one place and is a required part of the core curriculum. The course’s success has led Beckman to do seminar versions of it for Haas staff as well as corporate recruiters who come to campus to recruit the school’s MBAs.

“We’re not claiming that there is anything new in what we’re doing, but our experience is that MBA students are not exposed to a formal representation of how to think about problems,” says Beckman, a former manager from Hewlett Packard who began teaching at Haas in 1988.


“A lot of the education that students received prior to the MBA program is about solving problems. It’s much less about framing the problem in the first place. Part of being an innovative leader is being able to frame a problem in interesting ways and to see what that problem really is before you jump into solving it.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.