To stay on top of development in an ever changing world, companies have to reach out for innovation to stay alive. To do so, collaboration is becoming increasingly important. Collaboration technologies have supported companies to be more efficient, motivated and involved during an innovation process. In a business environment created by collaboration technologies, the most successful companies collaborate not only with internal stakeholders. They create collaborative ties with suppliers, customers, partners and even competitors, which we call open innovation. Innovation Factory explicitly supports the collaboration with internal and external stakeholders. But what are the essential elements of collaboration exactly? The Marshmallow Challenge and kindergarten children can reveal this to us. 

In 2014, Peter Skillman invented a simple experiment named the Marshmallow Challenge, you might have heard of it or even played it yourself. The Marshmallow Challenge is an ideal introduction to key aspects of the innovation process. It guides participants through several aspects, such as idea generation, execution, collaboration and creativity. During the challenge, teams of 4 persons need to build the tallest free standing structure in 18 minutes from 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard tape, one yard string and one marshmallow that needs to be placed on the top of the structure. The participants have to collaborate under time pressure. Skillman noticed that the teams often work through 4 stages: idea generation, planning, building and finishing phaseThe last phase is often achieved during the very last few minutes of the activity and often involves a Ta-Da moment at the end.

Skillman found out that the activity was performed differently by different types of groups. One of the worst performing groups were graduate students from business schools. They placed the marshmallow on the structure at the end of the activity but it made the structure collapse because of the weight of the marshmallow. One of the best performing groups were kindergarten children. They were not spending their time looking for power, but they constructed several prototypes with the marshmallow always first on top. The focus during their process was more on the planning and building phase. The kindergarten children found an iterative process in which they were building prototypes and refining them. Whereas smart ass business students spent most time on ideation and planning, ultimately building a structure that dropped in the last few seconds of the experiment.

There are two important lessons we want to highlight from this experiment:

  1. Building prototypes: The challenge makes clear that the iterative process of the kindergarten children results in a better performance and end result. This is mainly because of the several prototypes they have built and tested. Not only does Innovation Factory facilitate the process of building prototypes, our portfolio management module also includes this key element in its evaluations.
  2. Innovation is a team sport: Innovation reaches often across sectors and departments. Combining expertise from individual sectors is important in the innovation process, because innovation often does not respect the linear, industry specific alignments. Some of the most innovative ideas during the Marshmallow Challenge were the result from collaboration within cross-sectoral teams. Innovation Factory provides this possibility to companies and sectors by connecting them through one single platform. 

By combining these aspects of Innovation Factory, companies can unlock tremendous power. The key is to make collaboration work within collaborative technologies, but also internally and externally.