If You Want to Innovate, Hire a Kindergartener
CEOs are the exceptional few who lead the world's businesses. One would expect them to be among the elite in terms of intelligence, insight, leadership, and other key attributes. So how is it that kindergarteners regularly outperform CEO's in a test of innovation?
How is it that kindergarteners regularly outperform CEO's in a test of innovation?
It turns out that the way we are taught to approach some challenges—whether through our experiences in the business world or at business school (the kindergarteners beat MBA students, too)—doesn't achieve the best results. The Marshmallow Challenge (PDF guide) is a simple test of teamwork and innovation. According to Tom Wujec, former Autodesk Fellow and current head of The Wujec Group, "On virtually every measure of innovation, kindergarteners create taller and more interesting structures."
The key is that people in the business world are trained to find a single "right" plan. They spend virtually all of their time on planning and then attempt to execute that one plan. Kindergarteners, on the other hand, experiment with different solutions from the beginning and revise along the way. This cycle of prototype >>> refine >>> prototype again is what enables the little kids to beat the CEOs and MBAs.
The lesson for business leaders is to stop rewarding the "perfect" plan and punishing "mistakes."
The lesson for business leaders is to stop rewarding the "perfect" plan and punishing "mistakes". Forethought and planning are still essential—but don't count on those to deliver successful innovation. Encourage experimentation and testing—even if that means "failing". Your teams will learn, revise, and produce better results.
By the way, when Wujec offered a prize worth $10,000 to the winning team, all teams failed to produce a standing structure!