The EELISA Marshmallow challenge

…and what it teaches us about our way of collaboration

“The Marshmallow challenge is among the fastest and most powerful techniques for improving a team’s capacity to generate fresh ideas, build rapport and incorporate prototyping – all of which lie at the heart of effective communication” (Tom Wujec, founder of the Marshmallow Challenge). We at EELISA are establishing new collaborative pathways between our universities, working together to meet the challenges of the future, and thinking beyond the ordinary to shape innovation. For all of this, we need to communicate well, work together effectively, and overcome language barriers, disciplinary boundaries, and national borders in the process – the Marshmallow Challenge can help us to better address all these challenges that we face in our project.

When:  During EELISA Days, November 10 – 17

Where: November 10, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Welcome Center, Helmstraße 1, Erlangen

The whole week on social media (Twitter, Instagram): #EelisaMarshmallowChallenge

Here’s how the challenge works

In 18 minutes, a team of four people must build a free-standing tower. To do this, they are allowed to use 20 sticks of spaghetti, one meter of tape, one meter of string and one marshmallow. Whoever builds the tallest tower, as measured by the height of the marshmallow at the top, wins.

Once a team has built its tower, it will take a photo for social media and post it along with the height of the tower under the hashtags #EelisaMarshmallowChallenge and #EelisaDays.

With each posting, teams should nominate at least two other people or teams who must try to build an even taller tower. This way, it is our goal that the challenge spreads throughout the EELISA community.


In addition, the Challenge is a fundraiser: per each centimeter, participants can donate 0.10 euros (or more) to the #FAU4Ukraine project via Please write in the comments that you donated the money as part of the Marshmallow Challenge.

The team with the highest tower will be rewarded with a gift that will be announced at the beginning of the challenge.

How the Marshmallow challenge teaches us how to cooperate effectively

Tom Wujec explains what a team can learn from the Marshmallow Challenge in a TED Talk.

Key lessons of the marshmallow challenge:

  1. Kids do Better than Business Students: On virtually every measure of innovation, kindergarteners create taller and more interesting structures.
  2. Prototyping Matters: The reason kids do better than business school students is kids spend more time playing and prototyping. They naturally start with the marshmallow and stick in the sticks. The Business School students spend a vast amount of time planning, then executing on the plan, with almost no time to fix the design once they put the marshmallow on top.
  3. The Marshmallow is a Metaphor for the Hidden Assumptions of a Project: The assumption in the Marshmallow Challenge is that marshmallows are light and fluffy and easily supported by the spaghetti sticks. When you actually try to build the structure, the marshmallows don’t seem so light. The lesson in the marshmallow challenge is that we need to identify the assumptions in our project – the real customer needs, the cost of the product, the duration of the service – and test them early and often. That’s the mechanism that leads to effective innovation

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