Experimenting with AI: Lessons from Kindergartners and Spaghetti Towers

In Warren Berger’s insightful book, “A More Beautiful Question,” there’s a story that perfectly encapsulates the approach we need to take when dealing with AI, especially in the not-for-profit sector.

The story revolves around an experiment where kindergartners were pitted against Harvard MBA students in a seemingly simple challenge: to build the tallest structure using uncooked spaghetti sticks, string, tape, and a marshmallow. The catch? The marshmallow had to be placed on top of the completed structure.

While the MBA students took a highly analytical approach, spending their time debating and planning, the kindergartners dove right in. They started building immediately, learning from their mistakes, and iterating on their designs. The result? The kindergartners’ structures stood tall while the MBA students’ structures crumbled.

This experiment wasn’t designed to humble MBA students, but rather to shed light on how to make progress when faced with a difficult challenge in uncertain conditions. The key takeaway is that there’s no substitute for quickly trying things out to see what works. The MBA students got stuck contemplating the possible “What ifs,” while the kids moved quickly from “What if” to “How.”

So, what does this marshmallow test mean for us in the real world, particularly in the context of AI?

In today’s dynamic environment, we’re all being challenged to adapt quickly, using new and unfamiliar tools to construct new businesses, new markets, new careers, and new life plans. This requires us to be not only better questioners but better experimenters.

For not-for-profit organizations, this means embracing AI technology and experimenting with it. It means moving from “What if we could use AI to cut costs, save time, and increase our impact?” to “How can we use AI to cut costs, save time, and increase our impact?”

At NFPs.AI, we’re committed to helping not-for-profit organisations do just that. We’re here to serve as a trusted partner in driving positive change and lasting impact for the communities we serve.

Our weekly newsletter is not just another AI newsletter. We focus on real-world use cases to help not-for-profit organizations harness the full potential of AI. We believe in learning by doing, in experimenting, in moving from “What If?” to “How?” just like those kindergartners in the marshmallow experiment.

We invite you to join us on this exciting journey. Sign up now and let’s build our spaghetti and marshmallow towers together. Let’s see how high we can go!

Kyle Behrend

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