March 24, 2017 by
Filed under: Agility, Leadership, Project management 

The well-known Marshmallow Challenge asks teams to construct the tallest tower they can using spaghetti, tape and a string. Young children regularly do better than MBA graduates.

I was visiting a friend a few weeks ago and brought a Duplo gift for her son. While I was busy following instructions to put together a dump truck, he had quickly assembled his own version of a vehicle and was off on his own adventure.

In a Project Management workshop, we work to intentionally craft an environment where we can be creative in how we work together to solve complex challenges. Some participants struggle with this apparent lack of structure, at least initially. This week, one of the participants suggested the session would work well with the K-12 age group, and I tend to agree.


Much of what we learn throughout life, whether it is an intended part of any curriculum or not, is how to stay within the lines, how to follow orders, how do do as expected. We line up to get back into school after recess, we absorb and regurgitate information throughout most of our schooling, we pass or fail tests and meet standards and follow checklists and procedures. We are being indoctrinated from an early age to be compliant, predictable, and repeatable.

Plenty of this has to do with providing a structure where we can en masse learn the vast amount of information deemed necessary to succeed. Part of this has to do with ensuring that there is order in the way we interact with each other. If we each chose our own path for driving from point A to point B, without regard to the lines on the road and the traffic laws, there would be chaos – much as we might perceive the way people get around the roads in Mumbai or Singapore.

And we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that this is a bad thing. In the process, we are losing a critical skill – how to be creative, how to innovate.

When it’s time to come up with novel solutions, with ground-breaking ideas that can change the world, staying within the lines and following instructions and procedures rarely work. We need to back off on the idea of conforming, and appreciate that alignment can be sufficient. We need to back off on the idea of providing structure, and recognize that providing support can be good enough.

If we wish to be creative and innovative, we need to intentionally step away from many of the constraining behaviours and structures that have been been part of our education (or indoctrination) throughout our lives.

We need to unlearn. – JB


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