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Iteration and Hands-On Collaboration Drive Innovation: Lessons from the Second Annual Marshmallow Challenge

Posted By Cynthia Hanson, Tuesday, March 3, 2015

“Your supplies are some sticks, a yard of string, yard of tape, and a lone marshmallow. The goal for your team of four is to build the tallest freestanding structure possible with the marshmallow at the top, using only these components. You have 18 minutes to succeed. Now Go!”

Jeff Shuman, CSAP, Ph.D., issued his dare Monday, March 2, at the 2015 ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Orlando, Fla. USA, to open the second annual Marshmallow Challenge, where teams scrambled in a creative competition to build and secure a range of creatively designed wafty stilt structures. The collaboration exercise—done for years by kindergarteners, schoolchildren, college students, and MBAs (we won’t belabor which age group was most successful)—is a graphic way of teaching creative problem solving, which can often be difficult for alliance managers entrenched in routine procedures.

“Every alliance has its marshmallow,” explains workshop instructor Shuman, co-founder and principal at The Rhythm of Business and a business professor at Bentley University with over 30 years of teaching experience. The point of the collaboration exercise is “to understand that iteration and collaboration are the keys to innovation, which is what companies care about for growth.” “And,” he adds, “it’s fun!”

The challenge quickly raises three critical questions that emerge in collaborative projects and problem-solving efforts: Do you have a plan, and if so, how good is it to foster growth? As team members jockey for power, who will emerge as the leader? Does any team member have prior knowledge useful to the project that can help speed up the process to find a winning combination? The Marshmallow Challenge is a great team-building exercise to do when you are starting a partnership, Shuman says. 

Tags:  2015 ASAP Global Alliance Summit  Bentley University  CSAP  Jeff Shuman  The Marshmallow Challenge  The Rhythm of Business 

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