Are you smarter than a kindergartener?
May 9, 2010 10:51 AM   Subscribe

You know who should do this on tv? Donald Trump. For the Apprentice. I would actually watch.
posted by anniecat at 11:00 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

they get paid more than MBAs?
posted by infini at 11:07 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

The newest show from Jeff Foxworthy!
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:28 AM on May 9, 2010

Photos very disappointing. I wanted clear samples from MBAs through architects. Instead I get group photos of events I did not attend with people I do not know engaged in what I can only take on faith is the project described.

Even the kindergartner picture was more tantalizing than informative.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:41 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I too find this lacking. And while it's funny, I don't know that it is necessarily terribly illustrative. It's true that many MBA's are thoroughly entrenched in buzzwords and existing paradigms, but there is something to be said for building a plan and implementing it. Not all systems allow for iteration. Although an inability to iterate, or sticky to a plan once it has proven to be a failure, is a problem.
posted by wooh at 11:56 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is a reason one of the greatest books about architecture is titled Kindergarten Chats.
posted by meinvt at 11:57 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

So this guy figured out architects and engineers are good at construction problems, kindergartners are good at spaghetti construction, and BS graduates are not much use for a practical problem, with lots of handwaving and a generous helping of confirmation bias?
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:03 PM on May 9, 2010

Reminds me of Edward de Bono's book The Dog Exercise Machine, which I really enjoyed. The book contains a series of drawings by children, who were simply asked to "design a machine for exercising dogs". The results are really charming and inventive. I wish I could find examples online, but the book seems to be out of print and not very well web-represented.
posted by oulipian at 12:12 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't want to sit through this video, can somebody just describe the optimal solution to the Marshmallow Challenge? Is there an optimal solution?
posted by jcruelty at 12:51 PM on May 9, 2010

Well, apart from the LOLMBAs moment (which provides an enjoyable amount of Schadenfreude), I think that the good takeaway lesson from that talk is on the impact of motivation. Because it convincingly confirms that, indeed, there isn't anything quite as damaging as a motivated idiot.
posted by Skeptic at 1:27 PM on May 9, 2010

I'm going to brag about my own performance in a similar exercise to illsutrate how poorly this challenge measures any kind of teamwork or facilitation.

My challenge was twenty minutes, a copy of the newspaper, as much masking tape as we wanted, and a handful of ball bearings in a mug. We rolled the newspaper up into large-diameter tubes for stiffness and constructed a tripod banded in the middle with a narrow strip of paper to keep the legs from splaying out.

The interesting part was that the ball bearings had to be contained within the mug at the end, or the tower was disqualified. Most teams solved this by constructing a level platform atop their towers so they could set the mug down stably. We just jammed the mug upside down onto a wad of newspaper, which easily saved us five minutes of fiddling that went instead to extending and reinforcing the structure.

The punchline? I was completely oblivious to the fact that this was a test of teamwork rather than engineering, bombed every other metric on the application, and was ultimately (and deservedly) rejected. (Future employers trawling my internet history: This was back in high school, won't you invite me in for an interview so I can tell you all the ways I have since become a better person?)

There are (at least) two ways to approach this exercise, both of which require some modicum of teamwork. One is, as described, to present your ideas fearlessly, discuss their pros and cons respectfully but honestly, work together to iterate through prototypes, and learn from your mistakes in a non-political and meritocratic way.

Or you can have the best newspaper-tower builder on your team and have the good sense to listen to him. I'm not surprised that the architects came out on top. The takeaway lesson for me was that teamwork and such is a necessary condition, but really only to the extent that it prevents one person from stealing all the materials and storming out in a huff; but that teamwork alone is by no means sufficient.

There were people (one of them on my team) who didn't understand that things folded along their crease lines. Five of that person on a team wouldn't make a freestanding structure no matter how well they cooperated. So, once again, we are brought back to the sad fact that we are terrible at designing good metrics and need to think carefully about what we're actually measuring.
posted by d. z. wang at 1:33 PM on May 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Selection bias.

Kindergardeners are a broad mix of people, where as B-School grads are selected subgroup of societies most boring individuals.
posted by delmoi at 1:40 PM on May 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

since Marshmallows are flexible and springy I'd want to know if I could cut it up and use the slices as structural members.
posted by Megafly at 2:11 PM on May 9, 2010

Megafly: He tells in the video that it's a requirement for the Marshmallow to be on the top (to test that the structure can carry a minimum amount of load).
posted by flif at 2:25 PM on May 9, 2010

It'd be nice if this marshmallow challenge guy could iterate his way to a working rss feed.
posted by pwnguin at 2:32 PM on May 9, 2010

Why? Because the Business School grads were trained to look for the one right plan to follow and then implement it (which often failed at the last moment when the structure collapsed). Children, in comparison, just play; they try things out and experiment and work iteratively to find the solution.

In other words, the children are behaving as though each failure has no negative consequences, and the business grads are behaving as though it does. How surprising.

In other news, research also shows some young people have been known to try the iterative approach to figuring out how much alcohol they can drink and operate a vehicle without dying, and our entire civilization is currently doing the same thing with CO2 and the atmosphere.
posted by Xezlec at 2:59 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

they get paid more than MBAs?

Only if they're boys.
posted by briank at 3:15 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Despite the MBA jokes, and all the comments along the lines of "I knew that! I could have told you that", I think the point about iterative design is a pretty good one. If you put all your eggs in your basket, there isn't much wiggle room for failure. If you put one egg in each basket at a time, you might be able to spot what makes a better basket, and in the end you might have a lot more of your eggs left, and a decent basket to put them on.

Makes me think of the oil spill, and that idiotic idea of building a dome that only ensures BP can still gets its oil while in the meantime enough oil to cover all of Florida is sitting in the Gulf. Should just copy the Russians and blow up a bomb at the site of the leak. Or, like, put a sonic safety switch, which would have prevented all this, but yeah ... it would be harder to get to the oil then and keep making money, and it would cost so much! Like the equivalent of like, a day's worth of oil production at the platform! Why is BP even in charge of this? Someone should take over, fix the spill, and just bill the fuckers!

Yeah, I know I trailed off.

Cool TED video...
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 3:22 PM on May 9, 2010

In other words, the children are behaving as though each failure has no negative consequences, and the business grads are behaving as though it does. How surprising.

So, business grads are completely incapable of assessing situations, weighing risks and opportunities, and figuring out the most effective way of proceeding? Instead preferring to cover their asses at all times, even if the cost is total organizational failure? That sounds about right.
posted by No-sword at 3:29 PM on May 9, 2010

oh don't even get me started with the biggest problems wiht bschool indoctrination...
posted by infini at 4:01 PM on May 9, 2010

So, business grads are completely incapable of assessing situations, weighing risks and opportunities, and figuring out the most effective way of proceeding?

Okay, you make a good point. Sorry for the snarky tone before; I'll get serious.

The purely iterative approach and the purely pre-planned approach are the endpoints of a spectrum of behaviors, and the optimum point on that spectrum is probably highly situation-dependent. There is a tradeoff there: in one direction, the intellectual work is easy (therefore cheap) but the number of trials may be high. In the other direction, the intellectual work is difficult (because you have to make double-sure you get it right before you ever start), but the number of trials may be much lower (even if it isn't exactly 1). Open-source software is an example of the former, because releasing crummy code for free doesn't hurt you much. NASA spacecraft, for which one failure is death, are an example of the latter (and I'm always a little impressed at how few failures they actually have).

So, an intelligent person would choose how much effort to put into planning based on how much risk there was in the case of failure. This intelligent person would choose the same approach as the kids for the case of a marshmallow tower, and an entirely different approach for oil drilling. That this isn't the case is a disappointing statement about our businesspeople.
posted by Xezlec at 4:52 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sure the Kindergarten kids beat the MBAs in the marshmallow house challenge.
But only the MBAs can actually destroy the financial system and force you to live in one.
posted by storybored at 8:07 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

But honestly though, all this video shows (at most) is the the B-school grads aren't so good at problems that are time limited to 18 minutes.

To be fair, they should have the kindergarten group come up with a 12 month rollout plan for manufacturing silicon wafers in Intel's Irish fab.
posted by storybored at 8:23 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Xezlec thank you, that's one of the best takes on "right brain vs left brain" or "design vs business" or whatever buzzword is popular now regarding problem solving approaches to the "unknown" problems
posted by infini at 10:15 PM on May 9, 2010

In other words, the children are behaving as though each failure has no negative consequences like scientists, and the business grads are behaving as though it does like a cargo cult.


This is why so many business decisions make so little sense. The star chamber somewhere convinces itself that it has considered all the angles and there is no way that their plan could be anything other than perfect. Anyone who disagrees is not a team player and promptly ignored.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:15 AM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's all about fresh thinking
posted by databuff at 5:18 PM on May 11, 2010

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