In 2010, Tom Wujec gave a TED Talk about the Marshmallow Challenge. It’s a very simple and fun exercise: teams have the challenge of building the tallest structure possible with marshmallows, dry spaghetti, some tape and string. They have limited time and limited supplies.
It’s a great activity to get people working together and thinking creatively, and last week we gave the challenge to our employees.
Here at Impact Enterprises, we hold weekly workshops based on a monthly theme. For the month of June we tackled creative thinking, an essential life skill. It’s a particularly poignant topic here in Zambia, a developing country that’s reliant on basic industries and where the education system lacks a focus on creative thinking skills.
Some of our employees expressed that this was the first time they were able to participate in an activity such as this. As is typical in most developing countries, schools here have limited resources and the focus is on passing academic exams to get to the next grade. With limited space there is almost no emphasis on creative activities.
We started off the lesson by writing down the phrase, “We’ve always done it that way.” As we discussed the concepts of critical thinking and prototyping, we continuously looked back at this phrase to understand why problem solving requires us to find new approaches.
The Marshmallow Challenge is a great creative thinking exercise because it requires constantly reevaluating your approach. Despite how it may look, the challenge is quite difficult. Marshmallows and spaghetti aren’t very strong building materials and towers quickly fall apart. To be successful requires constant trial and error.
Taking their lessons outside the office, our employees have begun applying problem solving to their daily lives. During one of the discussions, one of the girls shared some goals she set out for herself to save money towards. However, some recent family emergencies caused her to skip work which impacted her salary. As she got back into the office, she found herself distracted.
Thinking critically about herself, she realized she could get back on track by simply chatting less in the office. She was losing focus by being gregarious. While it’s good to be social, she found it was sacrificing her long term goals. Evaluating her own performance honestly allowed her to not get discouraged and find solutions to problems before they escalated.
Impact Enterprises, as the first social BPO company in Zambia, in its nature is built on this concept of creative thinking. The technology sector has been poorly embraced here domestically. Current initiatives by the government and NGOs to fight unemployment focus on the existing agriculture and mining industries. This is the archetype of following what’s already been done.
The traditional model of upbringing in Zambia is tracked towards safe, traditional careers, and this is to the detriment to the graduating generation who will become the leaders of Africa. Finding the solutions of tomorrow requires solving the problems of today in a creative way.
Our business model of providing valuable employment by pioneering socially conscious outsourcing is introducing a brand new industry to the promising youth of Zambia. In the process, we are showing them new opportunities in the digital economy.