The Marshmallow Challenge is one of the English-taught activities our MBA program brings to students at the Affiliated Senior High School of National Taiwan Normal University (HSNU, 師大附中) in Taipei. It was my pleasure to be our game-master and emcee!
Teaching HSNU students is a tradition started by Charlie Tseng, one of our own, and a HSNU alum. Charlie’s startup, HopEnglish (希平方), provides online English lessons, and he sponsors the kids so they can attend the live English-speaking events that are put on by our MBA students, at no charge.
We’re actually the lucky ones because HSNU graduates do great things. Their alums include the architect of Taipei 101, an inventor of IBM’s “Deep Blue,” and the first Chinese astronaut. It’s an honor to be here.
What’s the Marshmallow Challenge?
The rules of the game are simple. Teams have 18 minutes to build the tallest structure they can, using only:
- 20 sticks of dry spaghetti
- One marshmallow – which goes on top
Marshmallows seem like an easy thing to support, but once you try it, a different story emerges. Teams that do better tend to spend more time trying different things, instead of planning. I asked the teams to count their “uh-oh” and their “ah-ha” moments to encourage more experimentation.
Younger students tend to do better than MBA students, for the same reason. The chart below shows how well different groups of adults do against kindergarten students. (In case you’re wondering, we didn’t face off; haha)
Why did we choose this activity?
Tom Wujec is a 3D designer who studies how people share and absorb information. He created the challenge to encourage “teamwork, leadership, and creativity.” I like the challenge because it helps people get comfortable with the unknown.
Activity-based learning allows students to discover things on their own. This helps students get excited about learning, because they understand what they will be doing with the knowledge. In science and in business, there’s observation, finding patterns, asking questions which turns into investigations that create solutions. That’s exactly what we’re doing here.
Principally, I used the Marshmallow Challenge as a way to teach young adults it’s okay if you don’t get things right the first time. Get over the fear of failure that keeps people from trying new and challenging things. The key lesson?
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” – William Edward Hickson