Last week, as part of a team-building exercise, my boss had our department do the Marshmallow Challenge. For those unfamiliar, the Marshmallow Challenge is the most recent in a long line of idiotic business “games” designed to demonstrate some point that most employees readily grasp, but managers seem to be unable to convey without breaking out craft supplies from an elementary school. Basically each team is given a marshmallow, some uncooked spaghetti, a length of string and a length of tape, and given 18 minutes to build a freestanding structure to get the marshmallow as high as possible.
You may be asking yourself, “what the fuck is the point of this?” The idea is that after the 18 minutes and the hilarity of getting people to try to build their structures, the lesson comes that the best at building these structures aren’t business students, but kindergartners! This is supposed to open your eyes to the fact that…um…kids are better at things? It’s kind of muddled at that point. Also, it’s a complete lie.
The presentation notes, in fairly small print because it doesn’t support their conclusion, that the actual best at this are engineers. You know, people who are specifically trained and have experience doing stuff like this. So the actual lesson should be: HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THE FUCK THEY ARE DOING. Instead, it’s supposed to show you that too much planning is a bad thing.
The lesson goes that kindergartners are good at this because they don’t spend time planning, and just begin building, trial and error style. That’s great…but again, that means the rules are different than the challenge – if the kids are “rapid prototyping” (which is what the presentation is getting at), they would have to have more than the allotted materials. Each attempt would require more sticks and tape and string because there’s no chance they don’t break or use up the material. However, in the challenge, the material is limited. No replacing the sticks, no replacing the tape or the string. Also, I guarantee that more than once a kid ate the marshmallow and it had to be replaced. If that’s supposed to represent your goal in business, I don’t think that the best metaphor is one greedy kid eating it all, though it certainly does describe most CEOs.
So basically you have two fallacies right off the bat: One, kids are NOT the best at this, highly trained professionals are; and Two, the “rapid prototyping” of the kids only working with essentially unlimited starting materials. Really the moral of this whole this is: spend the money on people who know what the fuck they are doing (engineers), and spend the money on materials so they can make multiple prototypes. Or if you want to turn it into non-tangible business goals, hire people who best know how to achieve the goal, and give them all the data/info/etc. they need to make it happen. That’s what the point SHOULD be. Instead it’s that kids are better than business students.
Well, that’s fucking useful to know.
But then the “Challenge” (I’m using sarcastic quotes now, since it’s based on two lies) goes a step further to make the point that winning the challenge earns you nothing. It claims incentive makes things bad. That’s lovely 1% thinking there. Of course your workers shouldn’t be PAID or anything, goodness no. The WORK should be the reward, right? Fuck that, Mr. Tom Wujec (the asshole who created this whole idiocy and presented it at TED). Fuck you for further impressing upon business types that paying people as little as fucking possible is the best way to go. In fact, your whole goddamned premise is false. Incentive means “to get something for work done”. It doesn’t matter if the incentive is money or to win praise, you’re still doing it FOR A REASON, idiot. Doing something for no reason at all is insanity. But hey, that’s what Mr. Wujec would like you to do.
I’m sure he doesn’t have to worry about whether or not to put gas in his car or eat this week, so sure, to him, incentives only cause people to fail. He discovered what sports fans have known for, oh, I don’t know, the history of sports: high stakes situations can cause people to choke. Fan-fucking-tastic, Mr. Wujec. That doesn’t mean incentive leads to failure, it means STRESS BECAUSE THE PEOPLE MAKING THE RULES ARE BEING ASSHOLES ABOUT COMPENSATION LEADS TO FAILURE.
But hey, way to miss the point. I bet kindergartners would have gotten it.
By the way, if you go to the “Marshmallow Challenge” website (it’s linked above, I’m not giving them two links), you can see Mr. Wujac delivering this “breakthrough” concept at TED (and, therefore, essentially setting up another generation of people being taken advantage of by incompetent bosses looking for easy solutions to complex issues). If there’s ever been a picture that is more deserving of the caption “DOUCHEBAG”, I’ve never seen it.
So in conclusion, fuck this idiotic challenge, and its inventor, who was so insistent on making a point his demonstration doesn’t actually support, he released yet another business manager virus upon the world. I hope there’s a special hell just for you where they make you watch poorly designed powerpoint presentations and do ridiculous arts and crafts for all eternity. Preferably while doused in extremely caustic acid.