What can marshmallows and toothpicks teach us about innovation? As it turns out, a lot. Ask the Columbia University grad students who were hands-on with us earlier this month.
The premise? A clearly framed problem statement combined with a healthy time constraint and a novel approach makes a big difference to results.
We gave each of three student teams a similar though not identical challenge – seven minutes to build a shelter using marshmallows and toothpicks. One group optimized to value, one to “green” elements and one to community engagement. All this after a warm up that gave them practice with their toolbox: two minutes to make a marshmallow toy.
The teams turned out three radically different models and felt enormous pride in their achievements. Ok, they had some fun and even snacked on their building materials in the process.
Lesson learned: Don’t start until your problem statement is clear – a step often overlooked when leaping into brainstorming. Then, enroll multiple teams, each focused on optimizing to a different success element. Next, pull the best ideas together and – voila! You’ve created a path to innovation. And, hey, no matter how busy or budget-constrained you are, we bet you can afford a bag of marshmallows and seven minutes to spark innovating thinking.