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Marshmallow Challenge

Resume / Brief description

Goal of this exercise is to build highest free-standing structure using supplied materials. Teams must cooperate together in well organised way to build the structure in relatively short time. Challenge should be performed in room big enough to allow all team members the free access to the tables where structures are being built.

Target group

Students, entrepreneurs, colleagues of the same company or work team, professionals of different areas


Work in team Collaborate with short time


20 sticks of spaghetti half a meter of masking tape half a meter of string one marshmallow

Implementation - Overview

Remember to prepare all materials before the challenge. Start with creating teams, then ask one person from each team to collect prepared materials. Clearly define and describe the rules and do not forget to mention that this is competition with a prize. Ask for the possible questions. Perform challenge using stopwatch and playing up-beat music in meantime. Be active during competition – walk from one team to another. When the time counts down, measure all standing structures, and write down all results in visible place (e.g. black board, projector). Prepare the prize for winning team. Do the summary, draw the conclusions to show that this challenge is not only for the fun, but is has the deeper meaning related to rapid prototyping, testing solutions and methods of the education. Time needed to finish this exercise is about 50 minutes.

Implementation - Guidelines

Detailed steps of the exercise are presented below and on the next slides. Assemble sets of materials for each team Every set contains twenty sticks of spaghetti, half a meter of masking tape, half a meter of string and one marshmallow. If string is strong, provide access to scissors (one for three teams). Marshmallows should be in standard size with shape close to cube or cylinder. Ingredients can be optionally placed into a paper bag, which simplifies distribution and hides the contents, maximizing the element of surprise. Other important tools needed for exercise are: - measuring tape, - countdown application or stopwatch – there are plenty on the web or use the smartphone, but the best solution is when teams see the timer, - video projector and sound system – projector for rules presentation, showing the final movie and for stopwatch. Sound system for good communication with the audience, especially during challenge, when it is very loud. - play music during contest – rock or pop are the best, but dramatic classical works well too, - prize – can be a new box of marshmallows, book, or even a small amount of cash. Create teams. Interesting results are for both situations: when teams are assembled randomly or when teams are created by people who know each other. Size of the team should be 4 to 5 members. If you have the possibility, check both cases. Present everyone the rules Following rules apply for the contest: – build the tallest freestanding structure – the winning team is the one that reaches biggest distance from the tabletop surface to the top of the marshmallow. That means the structure cannot be suspended from a higher structure, like a chair, ceiling, or chandelier. – marshmallow must be on top – the entire marshmallow needs to be on the top of the structure. Cutting or eating part of the marshmallow disqualifies the team. – use as much or as little of the kit – the team can use as many or as few of the twenty spaghetti sticks, as much or – as little of the string or tape. If the paper bags were used, then the teams cannot use them as a part of their structure. – break up the spaghetti, string, or tape – teams are free to break the spaghetti and cut up the tape and string. – challenge time is 18 minutes – teams cannot hold the structure during measurement. Structure must stand for at least 10 seconds. – questions – ask for the questions before the start. There are always any. Start the challenge Walk over the room and enjoy the teams’ creativity. Try to visit all teams, but do not suggest anything to them. Answer the questions if there are any. Remind the teams about time (e.g., every 6 minutes, focusing on half of the time). Finish the challenge You can ask everyone in the room to sit down so everyone else can see the structures. Measure all structures and write down the results in well seen place. Remember to identify the winning team – ensure they get a standing ovation and a give them a prize. Draw conclusions Talk with the teams about their feelings related to competition – what was easy, what was hard. Focus on cooperation, leadership, most time-consuming part, surprises, etc. Then show everyone the movie recorded at TED2010 talk. Presentation was performed by Tom Wujec. Link to the presentation: Draw conclusions after the movie and discuss it with the group: - kids do better than business students – when talking about creativity, kindergarteners create taller and more interesting structures, - prototyping matters – the reason kids do better than business school students is that kids spend more time testing the solution and prototyping. They naturally start with the marshmallow and stick in the sticks. The business school students spend a vast amount of time planning, then executing on the plan, with almost no time to fix the design once they put the marshmallow on top, - metaphor for the hidden assumptions of a project – the assumption in the Marshmallow Challenge is that marshmallows are light and fluffy and easily supported by the spaghetti sticks. When you try to build the structure, the marshmallows do not seem so light. The lesson in the marshmallow challenge is that we need to identify the assumptions in our project - the real customer needs, the cost of the product, the duration of the service - and test them early and often. That is the mechanism that leads to effective innovation and good product or service design.

Example of application:

Templates, Graphics for download

Additional format/ references