Independant Innovators

Violet Wang, Reporter

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Photo by Andrew Gotshall
Violet Wang shares her summertime experience.

You are presented with 20 sticks of raw spaghetti, a yard of string, and a yard of tape. Now, in a team of four, you are challenged to create the tallest freestanding structure that can balance a marshmallow for 30 seconds at its highest point. What would you create? When I attended the MIT Launch entrepreneurship program, this challenge was given as a warm-up exercise. So, my team and I plotted the most logical plan, making sure it would work before we began building. We felt satisfied with our wobbly spaghetti structure of 20 inches; however, looking around the room, the other groups all had the same spaghetti cube topped with a pyramid, hastily stuck together with tape, and the piece of string disregarded as useless. The high school students at the program were meticulously selected as the innovators of tomorrow and having already proven themselves as founders of companies, presidents of nonprofits, inventors, marketing experts, and app developers. Combine this pool and you should theoretically get a dream team. Yet, they couldn’t beat first graders. This seemingly unproductive spaghetti task was actually the ultimate test of creativity. Our advisor, an MIT engineering graduate, explained that the “Marshmallow Challenge” has been globally experimented, tested on kindergarteners to college students to CEOs. This raises a big question: Why? What changes from kindergarten to adulthood? It’s all in the mindset. Kindergarteners don’t come up with a foolproof, strategic plan. It doesn’t matter if they fail, so they go straight into the challenge, putting together materials until something works, and they build off that. It’s not foolproof, but it’s inventive. We are the next researchers, inventors, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Yet, we don’t treat them like that and we don’t harness the relentless creativity that they posses. We prepare young people to be good employees, instead of inspiring them to change the world. Instead, we should let kids experiment and create and fail and learn and improve. By teaching our kids how to apply their innovations to solve real world problems, we build resilient, determined, and creative individuals. By empowering our youth and nurturing their natural creativity, perhaps the problems of tomorrow will be solved.

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