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Elite College Students Bested by Average Kindergartners

Over the course of several months, Peter Skillman conducted a study pitting the skill of elite university students against that of the average kindergartner. Groups of four built structures using 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1 yard of tape, 1 yard of string, and 1 marshmallow. The only rule, the marshmallow had to end up on top.

Business students began by diagnosing the task, formulating a solution, and assigning roles. The kindergarteners, by contrast, got right to work, trying, failing, and trying again. Author Daniel Coyle explains the outcome, “We presume skilled individuals will combine to produce skilled performance.” But this assumption is wrong. In dozens of trials, the kindergartners built structures that averaged 26 inches tall, while the business school students built structures that averaged less than 10 inches.

We see smart, experienced business school students, and we find it difficult to imagine that they would combine to produce a poor performance. We see unsophisticated, inexperienced kindergartners, and we find it difficult to imagine that they would combine to produce a successful performance . . . individual skills are not what matters. What matters is the interaction.

The kindergartners succeed not because they are smarter but because they work together in a smarter way. They are tapping into a simple and powerful method in which a group of ordinary people can create a performance far beyond the sum of their parts.

Source:

Daniel Coyle, The Culture Code (Bantam, 2018), pp. xv-xvii.

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