Marshmallow Musings

Day 24


This past weekend, we enjoyed the first of many cottage fires which always include the  mandatory marshmallow roasting. My daughter has taken the art of roasting marshmallows  and elevated to a party for one’s taste buds.  A few years ago she stumbled upon the idea to  insert a Rolo caramel in the middle before roasting and the result was decadent.  This year, her  latest idea was to roast the marshmallow just until you can remove the caramelized outer shell  and then fill that shell with Caramel sauce and/or your favourite liqueur.  If there is a level beyond decadent, this taste sensation certainly meets it and then some.

As I became lost in the flames of the fire, I started to reflect on my most recent (and definitely more healthy) encounter with marshmallows and how the debrief of that activity caused me to question my thinking about experts and the time they use in planning.

A few weeks ago, as a “Minds On” activity for our Innovation forum, we were placed in teams of four and provided with  18 minutes, 18  pieces of dry spaghetti,  30 cm of string, 300 cm of tape and a marshmallow, with the task of building the tallest structure which would support the marshmallow.  As has happened time and again with this task, groups built a variety of structures and creatively used the string and the tape to support the desired height.  A few groups decided to support a small piece of the marshmallow as opposed to the whole thing ~ the rules did not specify how much needed to be supported.


This task was highlighted in a TedTalk video where Tom Wujec shared with the audience that  the group of participants who were able to build the highest structures were children in  kindergarten because of how they embarked on the task.  The children dove right in; no  preplanning, so scale drawings, no prototypes.  They would try something and if it worked they continue to add to it, if not they would start again.  The data shared outlined how “educated adults” were not able to reach record breaking heights because they spent too much time in the planning phase and not enough time in the actual “doing” phase.

The information from this study is in direct opposition to the work of Katz in Intentional Interruption where he states that experts are faster than everyone else in everything except the planning phase. Experts spend more time planning than others.  We use the importance of planning as the basis for our work and had school teams spend a great deal of time crafting their inquiry before diving into the other components of their collaborative inquiry.

I’m not sure if the marshmallow activity is enough to have us change our work, but like all contrasting information, it certainly has given me cause to stop and reflect.  Maybe one of Kaitlyn’s caramel filled roasted marshmallow treats will bring some clarity.

In our current age of information, there is a greater opportunity for contrasting information to come your way.  What do you use as your filter?

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One thought on “Marshmallow Musings

  1. Thanks Sue.
    Thanks for sharing your daughter’s recipes – gotta love experiments.

    The idea of expert vs novice is interesting – doing vs learning. Of the various groups that Wujek has put through the marshmallow challenge it is architects and engineers who consistently do best – thankfully. These experts in building likely do well with this challenge as they can apply their understanding of physical design and structures. Recent graduates of business school typically build towers that collapse while those who regularly build the tallest and most interesting structures are recent graduates of kindergarten.

    Perhaps the reiterative approach of prototyping, as recommended by Wujek and other human centred design specialists (start small, try, review, modify and repeat), works when people are faced with unfamiliar situations where learning and feedback can inform their practice. Perhaps experts spend more time planning as they have experiences and deeper understanding to draw upon – they have less to learn.

    A big thankyou for sharing your family’s roasted marshmallow prototypes. Our next family campfire will be richer for it – might even try adding a pinch of sea salt.

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