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

 KINDERGARTEN KIDS USUALLY BEAT MBAS AT THE MARSHMALLOW CHALLENGE

The lesson: Most MBAs spend too much time planning and debating instead of simply doing. And generally, they leave the marshmallow as an afterthought, finding out that it’s too heavy for the spaghetti sticks at the end when they are running out of time. Instead, the lesson is that they should be testing their assumptions continuously, trying different things out right away, and checking the sturdiness of the structure by putting the marshmallow on much earlier than they do.

It’s a bit humbling when Beckman tells the class that kindergarten children are far more successful than MBA students at the exercise. “None of the kids want to be CEO,” says Beckman, “and business school students are trained to do the single best thing—rather than try many things and iterate along the way.”

Ultimately, says Beckman, MBA students find it challenging to think in different ways—which is essential to the innovation process. “When we worked on taking different points of view,” she adds, “they watched the trailer for a documentary on the American Teacher and identified the different points of view in the video. Then in class we taught them how to do ethnographic interviewing, and had them try it out on each other to capture the high school experience. They then contrasted what they had learned about high school from each other (a student view) with what they learned from the video about other views (teachers, administrators, media).”

Whether it’s a discussion on taking different points of view or building a spaghetti tower, the aim of the course is to open up MBA minds to more innovative thinking. “What we’re trying to do is say we think you have good tools for solving problems,” says Beckman. “But do you have good tools for looking at problems in the first place?”

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