When Kindergartners beat MBAs


@mattschnuk on Twitter shared an anecdote on teamwork. It’s a good story, but Matt’s conclusion is wrong in an interesting way

The thread goes on to explain an experiment where team of kindergartners, CEOs, lawyers, and MBA students are challenged to build the tallest tower out of pasta, marshmallows, tape, and string, presumably in a reasonably short amount of time.

The result is not what most people expect, the kindergartners come out of top, and the MBAs are not just at the bottom, but their towers are less than half the height of the 5 year olds’.

Why? It’s not the social dynamics that Matt claims. That might play a role in real-world efforts that last for weeks or months, but in this 20-45 minute task, at most that slowed down the MBAs.

The key reason the children won is that they spent their limited time trying and failing vs. planning.

Given the same task and a week to complete it, the MBAs probably would have come out on top, as they would have had time to learn how their Plan A failed, had time to work on Plan B, seen that fail too, and by Plan C created a framework to get to Plan E by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the kindergartners would have run out of attention an hour after the challenge started. But in that hour they would have not just come up with four or five plans but have already built five or seven or ten towers. Their fast iterations probably reached 80% of the tallest possible height of a pasta-marshmallow-string-tape tower.

The lesson here isn’t that MBAs are stupid, it’s that iteration and experimentation is the winning strategy.

Which is why, if you go back to look at the results, the CEOs came in a close second. Most successful CEOs understand the power of iteration and thus I’ll be surprised if the CEO teams spent more than a few minutes dividing up the task before starting the build. I’d bet the CEOs iterated almost as many times as the children. I’ll bet the difference between the children and CEOs is that the CEOs spent time analyzing and debating the results while the children just kept iterating.

So again, I suspect that if this challenge were two or three hours long, the CEOs would win, as there would be time for that analysis to prove the other point of this type of work, that experiments are much more valuable when you have time to analyze the results and learn lessons. But given just minutes, every moment talking is a moment not experimenting.

By "Luni"


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