The Marshmallow Challenge and trust

Last week, I wrote about the role of trust in the person who writes a creative brief. I offered a quick exercise to gauge the level of trust you possess in your organization.
This week, I have a group exercise designed to build trust within a group. Many of you have likely heard about it, perhaps even tried it: The Marshmallow Challenge.

Simply put, the task is for a group of four people to construct a tower in the span of 18 minutes with four ingredients: a handful of uncooked angel hair pasta, a length of masking tape, a length of string and one marshmallow, Marshmallow challengewhich must be at the highest point of the structure. Oh, and the structure must stand on its own. No one is allowed to hold it.

Easy, eh? Unless you’ve tried this exercise, you have no idea. It’s used among all age groups, from kindergartners to adults, including business majors and CEOs. Kindergartners are typically the most successful. You might want to review this TED Talk to find out why. The least successful group is business majors.

The point I make here is twofold: first, a creative brief should never be undertaken as a solo activity. There is usually one person who writes it, but it should not be written by a single person. It is a collaborative affair.

Second, the creative brief-writing process demands trust for the document to be effective. As John Hegarty, founding partner and Worldwide Creative Director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) in London wrote in his celebrated book, Hegarty on Advertising, Andy Paradise“After all, the brief is nothing but a bit of paper that has been crafted by someone who too often wants to try, and sadly, to control the process. I’m always trying to open up the process, not close it down. I don’t want it to be controlled, I want it to be liberated.”

One simply way to accomplish this liberation is to collaborate. Bring in other members of the team to help craft this vital document. That means creatives. It means people outside the account planning and account management spheres. I am not suggesting a committee. I am suggesting a dedicated team.

Perhaps a group of four. Which makes the Marshmallow Challenge the ideal activity in which to bond and build relationships. The first piece of content that every creative brief requires is trust.


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