Kindergartners Are Smarter Than Business School Students

Imagine a room filled with 30 people, divided into six teams. Each team gets 20 sticks of spaghetti, a yard of string, strips of scotch tape, and a single marshmallow. They have 18 minutes to build a free-standing structure that will enable the marshmallow to rest on top. This is marshmallow challenge.

Marshmallow Challenge

In a seven-minute TED talk, Tom Wujec shares data suggesting that, while the average team produces a tower with a height of about 20 inches, business school students tend to significantly underperform the average. While MBA students do poorly, kindergarteners beat the average:

[B]usiness students are trained to find the single right plan, right? And then they execute on it. And then what happens is, when they put the marshmallow on the top, they run out of time and what happens? It’s a crisis. Sound familiar? Right. What kindergarteners do differently is that they start with the marshmallow, and they build prototypes, successive prototypes, always keeping the marshmallow on top, so they have multiple times to fix when they build prototypes along the way. Designers recognize this type of collaboration as the essence of the iterative process. And with each version, kids get instant feedback about what works and what doesn’t work.

The surprising thing about the marshmallow challenge, then, is not the performance of the children but the performance of the adults. The business students who build a ten-inch tower would have built a twenty-seven-inch tower when they were in kindergarten. Where did those extra seventeen inches go? What happened to the students in the intervening years?
The business students, like most of the rest of us, lost a lot of their capacity to cooperate. The focus on individual accomplishment in their education and environment taught them that it was more valuable to perform individual tasks, especially solving problems with definite answers, than to work on ambiguous things in teams. The natural collaborative ability they developed as children got squashed like their marshmallow towers.

Kevin Ashton - How to Fly a Horse

Even worse, by the time children become adults, they have learned that talking is an alternative to doing. At school, most work is done individually and quietly—especially most of the work that gets graded. One of the most common classroom rules is “No talking.” The message is clear: you cannot do and talk at the same time….
[A]dults think before acting; children think by acting.
Talking while acting is useful, but talking about acting is not—or, at least, not often, and not for long….
[C]reation is doing, not saying. The most creative organizations prioritize rituals of doing; the least creative organizations prioritize rituals of saying, the most common of which is the meeting…. There is no creating in meetings. Creation is action, not conversation.
How a Fly a Horse
By Kevin Ashton

Sir Ken Robinson

Creativity is a function of intelligence. The reason that adults often think they’re not very creative often is that they haven’t found what they’re creative at. The reason we think we’re not very intelligent is because we underestimate the nature of our own intelligence. And the reason we do this is education, for the most part.
About ten years ago, George Land and Beth Jarman published a book called, Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today. They report on research they did over a series of years of divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is not the same thing as creativity, but it is a good example of it. It’s the capacity to think non-logically: to think analogically and associatively. They gave a series of tests to 1,600 three- to five-year-olds. If they achieved above a particular score they would be considered geniuses divergent thinking. Of the 1600 children, 98% scored at the genius level or higher for divergent thinking. They gave the same tests to the same children five years later at the ages of 8 to 10. Then 32% scored at the genius level in divergent thinking. They gave the same test to the same children at the ages of 14 to 15 and the result was 10%. Interestingly, they gave the same test to over 200,000 adults and the figure was 2%. Now this doesn’t tell us everything, but it tells us something, doesn’t it, about the erosion of a capacity that children once had.
Now a lot of things have happened to these children by the time they got to be 15, but one of them is that they became educated. Much of what we teach in education is about not being wrong, about not taking risks, about knowing there’s a right answer and it’s at the back and you’re not to look yet.
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