Last week at work, there was a team bonding activity where we were challenged to build the tallest structure possible with only one yard of tape, one marshmallow, twenty strings of uncooked spaghetti, and one foot of yarn. We all thought it would be easy peasy until we realized the entire marshmallow had to be at the top of the structure. How could thin, uncooked spaghetti and yarn hold up an entire marshmallow?
We were divided into several different groups and only had eighteen minutes to strategize and build the structure. When time was up, only a little more than half of the groups succeeded in creating something that fit the guidelines, while everyone else either had nothing built or fallen structures.
After the activity, we were asked to reflect on this exercise, and that’s when we all realized how many valuable lessons we could learn from just one marshmallow, some tape, spaghetti, and yarn.
1. Tall structures need strong foundations.
One person shared how his team was initially focused purely on how to increase their structure’s height because the goal of the exercise was to make the tallest structure possible. However, they soon realized they couldn’t go much higher unless they created a stronger foundation, so they shifted their focus to the base. Often times we think about the end goal and just go full steam ahead without evaluating whether we are truly ready or capable of rushing forward. So sometimes we need to take a step back, see where we currently are, and work on our foundations so that our progress to that end goal will be smoother and the end result, solid.
2. Sometimes you just need to go for it.
One person said her group spent so much time strategizing that they didn’t have enough time to actually build the structure. Sometimes we focus so much on goal outlining and planning that we fail to execute and actually get things done. So sometimes we need to set a time limit for our planning and then just go for it. Once the execution begins, we can then see how things turn out and refine the strategy as we go.
3. Failures are not final.
One group said their structure completely toppled when there were only three minutes left, and everyone went into stress mode, trying desperately to repair their fallen structure. Ultimately, they were not only able to rebuild their structure, but also rank in the top three for height. Goes to show that failures happen, but as long as there’s still time on the clock, there’s still hope, so don’t give up immediately when things go wrong. After all, it’s not over until it’s over.
4. Sometimes it helps to think like a child.
Apparently, this exercise has been done at many other companies and also in kindergarten classrooms, and interestingly, almost every kindergartner had no trouble building a standing structure according to the guidelines while only a little over half of adults can. This may be because kids don’t have too many preconceptions that limit their thinking. For example, adults may think about the laws of physics and have that guide their building process, but the kindergartners don’t have that knowledge and thus build their structures out of innocent creativity. Maybe sometimes knowing too much can actually hurt and limit our thinking, so sometimes we really have to clear our minds and think like a child.
5. Karma is real.
This was something I observed. Those who tried to use “unethical” ways of building their structures (i.e. consulting their phones for tips when you weren’t supposed to and sneakily continuing to build their structures after time was called) didn’t succeed. Ultimately, their structures fell over or never made it to standing. So don’t break the rules or take ethical shortcuts. The results are never good, and your co-worker may also now have a not-so-pleasant impression of you.
為了培養團隊精神，我老闆上禮拜設計了一個比賽。老闆把我們七十幾位員工分成了十幾組，並給每一組同一個任務：在十八分鐘之內，用一顆棉花糖、36’’的膠帶、20根麵條和12”的毛線做出一個能單獨站立的物體。勝負取決於物體的高度 — 哪一組能做出最高的物體就是比賽的贏家。我們本來覺得這任務應該不難，但是老闆突然又加了一條規則：整顆棉花糖一定要立在物體的最高點。這下我們每一個人都抓頭，因為麵條跟毛線能撐起一顆棉花糖嗎？