The Marshmallow Challenge – How frequent failing increases success

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The marshmallow challenge (text) (YouTube video) is a team design challenge involving the following:

"in 18 minutes, each group can use 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, and one yard of string, and one marshmallow to build the tallest structure with the marshmallow on the top."

Source: Marshmallow Challenge

Tom Wujec administered this challenge to many groups of people, from students, to designers and architects, to CTOs of the Fortune 50.

These are the results:

Source: Build a tower, build a team | Tom Wujec (YouTube)

Architects and engineers consistently performed the best (thankfully), producing the tallest towers with the highest marshmallow using their knowledge of how to design and build stable structures.

Recent graduates of business school apparently consistently perform the worst.

Yet, kindergarten graduates consistently perform well-above average.

Some reported reasons for the difference between business school graduates and kindergarten graduates are:

  • Kindergarteners do not spend time jockeying for power at the beginning, saving precious time.
  • Business students spend most of the time planning rather than executing (with the problem being that a marshmallow is heavier than most expect. After all the planning, business students only build a single structure near the end, but catastrophe occurs when finally attaching the marshmallow on top. It's too heavy and everything collapses.)
  • Kindergarteners, however, experiment and rapidly produce multiple prototypes, finding what works or doesn't work, and improving on each design. In this challenge, kindergartens simply fail more often.

This exemplifies how maximizing our fails can produce great success.


This was something I remembered from many years ago. Luckily, I could find it with some quick Googling. If only all sources and memories can be so easily traced.

Write down or otherwise record what resonates with you. Or you'll lose it.


Other thoughts:

  • Children are readily willing to fail, whereas as we grow older, we shy away from failure, doing what we can to avoid failure. What are the causes for this?
  • Developing loss aversion as we grow older might be a reason.

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