Leaning Towers of Puft

Stay PuftI used the marshmallow challenge in two classes last week — one an introductory course on globalization and the other a senior interdisciplinary seminar. Out of a total of fourteen teams, only two constructed a tower that remained upright when time expired. Most teams followed the same path to eventual destruction.

In each class I ran a debriefing discussion after the exercise in which I asked students how their experience of the challenge could be applied to problem solving in general. I then showed them Tom Wujec’s TED Talk (see the linked post above), which repeated many of the ideas they had generated on their own — namely that effective problem-solving is both an iterative and a collaborative process. Individuals rarely stumble upon the perfect solution the moment they begin thinking about a problem. Testing possible solutions — prototypes — increases the chances of achieving one’s goal. Facilitation skills are also important. Good communication and a willingness to consider the perspectives of others are just as important as technical skills.

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