Liberating Ideas

Marshmallow Minds was founded and incorporated on March 4th, 2016 with a mission to inspire innovation through Design Thinking and STE(A)M education and build Creative Confidence in young minds between grades K-8 of all abilities. At the start, neither the process of getting there, nor the outcome was clear. But the need for a better early education experience was clear. Since 2016, Marshmallow Minds has delivered quality Design Thinking and STE(A)M programs to thousands of students in public schools in Santa Clara County. As we complete 3 years, we would like to celebrate all the liberating ideas that helped in the transformation of the organization!

I asked myself every single day,  “How are you feeling about going to work today? Are you excited at the prospect of solving the customer problems that you can hardly empathize with?”. Although I didn’t get great responses, I didn’t see any other alternatives. So, I started to fall in love with technologies and solutions.

In 2005, I hesitantly joined Intuit, a financial software company, with little clue on what this company does. Soon, I was exposed to tools that enabled me to get out behind my desk and talk to customers which soon unlocked new ideas and helped me see problems in a new light. I participated in many ideation sessions with our customers and partners. I was able to shadow our customers and learn how their daily life is, what tools they use and the problems they face. Soon I fell in love with their problems.

The design for delight (Intuit's take on Design Thinking that involves Empathy, Go Broad to Go Narrow and Rapid Experiments) and Lean startup methodologies (Build — Measure — Learn) provided guidance, clear structure, and enabled freedom to bring my ideas to life quickly.

A few years later, I started volunteering as part of the project cornerstone program at my son’s elementary school. As part of the project cornerstone program, I read specially selected books and lead activities that help teach young kids to develop skills to handle physical, verbal, relational and digital bullying and to stand up for others in need. I developed a passion for teaching and learned to empathize with others through this process. I soon realized that we are headed into a world where kids are being a container of mere knowledge rather than being someone who can be a creative designer of the future. Making these young kids learn the allegedly ‘one correct answer’ by heart by following a knowledge-driven curriculum through a ‘one size fits all’ teaching approach’, leads to sucking the creativity out of them.

Recently, I was offered an opportunity to be part of Marshmallow Minds to make a small dent through sharing the design thinking experiences I have been exposed to at work in order to benefit students of all abilities, educators, and parents. I also hope to apply my learnings from this experience back to the corporate world. As a Board Of Director at Marshmallow Minds, I am excited to bridge my passion and my profession and promote and preach the benefits of design thinking and build creative confidence in young minds.

(Posting by
Nirmala Ranganathan, Treasurer, Board of Directors, Marshmallow Minds)

Marching Forth!

Marshmallow Minds was incorporated on March 4th, 2016. We believe it is a sign that guides us to march forth in our endeavors! On March 4th, 2018, I would like to share my experiences as the Secretary, Board of Directors at Marshmallow Minds and celebrate the impact we have been privileged to create in 2017-18 academic year. Thank you Harini, our founder, for inviting me to join the team to serve our community to which we are committed to cultivate a love of learning through exploration and empathy.

Our second academic year at Murdock-Portal Elementary School(Cupertino Union School District) has evolved the “In School” program into covering over 350 kids from kindergartners to 3rd graders. This is a 7X increase in the number of kids benefitting from our In-School program from the previous academic year. Our instructors and coaches have spent  over 200 hours of imparting design thinking and STEM education, which is a twenty-fold increase over 2016-17 academic year. The feedback we have received from parents and teachers, about the positive experience kids confidently share with them has humbled us and has reinforced our belief that empathic exploration and learning inspires creative confidence.

Our kids have dreamed, explored, researched and created other solar systems. They also understood the nuances of the genetic impact on vision and muscles of special kids who need more care from the community. Our kids empathized with the needs of these special kids and created ways to help kids with low muscle tone enjoy recess in school. They re-created a stargazing party for kids who suffered from night blindness and could not enjoy the beauty of the night sky. They had fun creating these models of the world from their empathic point of view and collaborated in coming up with these alternate visions of our world. The impact these empathic kids will create when they are leaders promises to be truly unprecedented.

Marshmallow Minds hired its first employee and we also scaled our Board, to enable filing for the 501(3)(c) status which we would be doing in the near future, with the sustained support from our community. We enriched our program to include new design challenges which have helped us uncover new insights in empathy based design. We conducted parent education nights where parents had fun designing roller coasters for the Golden State Warriors and NASA Astronauts. Marshmallow Minds is looking into expanding the program to kids who are being homeschooled, through partnership with Lumen Learning Center. Our professional development program at the center for their trainers was well received by Lumen’s staff.

The Marshmallow Minds team is growing and building our social presence to share the exciting experiences with our community, educators, and partners. We will be unveiling more programs in schools and in the community with your support. We look forward to further enriching our experiences and incorporating fun design challenges, that help our young students understand and explore the world not just from their eyes, but from the others they share this planet with. As a Board Member, I am having fun creating meaningful change in education, society, and increasing the empathic quotient in the community while dreaming of s’more experiences here at Marshmallow Minds!

(Posting by Anand, Secretary, Board of Directors, Marshmallow Minds)


HFLI, Detroit, Delta

Summer 2016 Design Thinking workshop with 

Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI)


HFLI workshop experience

The first workshop that I attended with the Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI) was an introduction to Design Thinking for educators (August 3 through 5, 2016). Having taken a Design Thinking course at Stanford as part of their Advanced Project Management (SAPM) program, I was tempted to forego this workshop. However, after speaking with the associate director of Design Thinking at HFLI, I was convinced that I should attend. Although I am familiar with the Design Thinking process, attending the workshop with a group of experienced educators was very different compared to the SAPM experience. We, in the corporate world, see things in a different way from educators. Such varying viewpoints are good; at the same time these can mislead us if we do not truly understand the educators’ world. 

I gained a number of valuable insights from this workshop. I was touched and humbled by the HFLI team who shared a great deal of their Design Thinking educational resources, which have been created with much effort over the years. Their Design Thinking curriculum has been well-tested in their charter schools from K through 12th grade; therefore they can be prototyped and eventually implemented in other schools.  

The second workshop called “The Innovation Collaborative”, on August 8 and 9, 2016, was organized for the advanced Design Thinkers who have implemented Design Thinking in their K-12 classrooms. Educators from many countries, with different cultures and different languages, came together under one roof with a shared interest of elevating the Design Thinking experience to a higher grade for their respective schools and communities. We shared with each other our success stories, challenges and vital questions as we moved forward. 

I applaud the HFLI team for designing outstanding workshops and facilitating collaboration among schools, and for allowing us to gain great inspirations, tools and connections for the next significant step in our journey.

Empathy can be powerful and positive

It was the day after the Delta global computer system outage that I was flying out of Detroit on Delta, after finishing my week long Design Thinking workshops with HFLI.  The workshop ended at 2:00pm on the 9th of August and I was ready to fly back to California to reunite with family.  Except, I had booked my flight for a 10:10 pm departure which meant an eight hour long wait assuming the flight did not get delayed or canceled.  I decided to head straight to the airport from the workshop to try my luck and get into an earlier flight in-spite of my lovely host’s kind and generous offer to enjoy one more delicious dinner with them before I head back. 

I reached the airport and noticed the long ticket counter lines, not-so-happy customers and weary officials who have probably been putting extra hours of work to ensure their customer needs are taken care of.  I too joined the line with no expectation.  Then, it was my turn and I stepped forward.  After a quick, polite exchange of ‘auto-pilot’ mode greetings, the Delta official checked my flight details and was happy to let me know that the 10:10pm flight is not likely to get delayed or canceled.  I was definitely relieved.  Then, I asked him if its possible to get on the 5:55pm flight so I could reach home early. 

He gave me a stare and I could read his mind in the eyes.  Do you have any idea what is the probability of that happening given we are desperately trying to get stranded passengers out of this airport after the global computer system outage? Then he went back to his computer.  While my brain could have switched to ‘wait’ mode, it chose to empathize with his state of mind and in a fraction of a second, I was apologizing to him for having made such a request.  Given the challenges they had been facing since the global system outage, I told him that I could totally understand if he would not be able to help me with my request.  This time, he gave me a smile and said, “Thank you for understanding. Let me see what I can do”.  He then recommended that I do a self service check-in at the kiosk for the boarding pass and if the system allowed for a flight change option, he could further help.  

I went to one of the self service kiosks and started entering my details.  Along the way, a new option popped up asking whether I was interested to volunteer for a flight exchange and I agreed.  This could be a ‘win-win’ for me and the airlines, I thought to myself.  Once I agreed, the system took me to the airfare bidding menu. Options were from $200 through $500 in increments of $100 along with a custom entry option.  I was truly puzzled as I was not expecting the airlines to pay me and also get me on an earlier flight!  I decided to settle for $0.00. I entered $0.00 as the bidding fare which was rejected by the system as user error. I then tried $1.00 which was rejected as well.  After few iterations, I found the magic number that the system would finally accept. Triumphantly, I returned to the Delta official.  With my amateur storytelling skills, I narrated the experience of volunteering for the airfare exchange followed by the airfare biddingand declared that I had to settle for $10.00 as the bidding airfare since the system would not accept any lower value. He stopped typing and asked, “Why did you not go for the $500 bidding option?  You could have potentially gotten both the money and the earlier flight.  But I am surprised you made this choice.”  I reflected my actions for a moment and then replied, “Well, it’s a challenging day for Delta.  Yet, you have been very helpful.  I am very thankful to you and the team for trying to get me a standby flight.  Hopefully, you will save me some time and I will save Delta some money, with this choice”.  We then parted with a warm smile and wishing each other well after exchanging few friendly conversations.  Mutual empathy connected two individuals of completely different nature, jobs and culture.  It added a new dimension to problem solving and happiness, I realized.  That was indeed powerful and positive to experience.  

After comfortably settling in the 5:55pm flight, I opened my personal journal to ink my HFLI experience.

Without any doubt, the HFLI team did a fantastic job of tuning me further towards an empathetic mindset through their workshops and their impact in the schools they are serving in the local Detroit community.  In this trip, I continued to experience that having a Design Thinking mindset which starts with empathy does make a difference in the choices we make in any journey we take in our life.

(Posting by Harini, Founder, Marshmallow Minds)

Namesake, up for a marshmallow design challenge?

The Marshmallow Design Challenge

please click on the slideshow below.  

Tom Wujec presents some surprisingly deep research into the "marshmallow problem" — a simple team-building exercise that involves dry spaghetti, one yard of tape and a marshmallow. Who can build the tallest tower with these ingredients? And why does a surprising group always beat the average?  Watch this video to find out the value of the experience of this simple Marshmallow design challenge. 

Every Project has its own marshmallow, isn’t it?

The story behind the name, Marshmallow Minds

We were at Franz Joseph, New Zealand last Christmas.  Unusually warm and clear skies… We were going on a hike by a riverside.  Surprisingly, no one was there except us…not even a sheep! (Interesting facts: The human population of New Zealand is 4.5M out of which 1.5M of them live in Auckland! The rest are scattered all over the country. By the way, there are 28M sheep! )  There were lots of rocks on the river bed; the clear skies reminded of California blue skies; the Sun was beaming; the water was free flowing; the snow capped mountains were standing tall and majestic and of course, a lot of greenery to please your eyes.  I was so inspired by the creations of God that I had to meditate on one of those rocks and sing a Thillana in raag Reetigowla taught by my Guru, Srividya Ramanath, which is a composition of Chitravina Ravikiran (If it sounds Greek and Latin, well, I am talking about a song from the Indian classical music).  The gushing water dashing against the rocks and the whistling winds, all seemed to be in sync with the music and accompanying me in my performance. For me, this was one of the best music performances ever, a tribute to Mother Nature. It was an experience that will stay with me forever. 

After the hike, it was time for a nice Hot Chocolate. Not a single place we went to, served Hot Chocolate without marshmallows.  While in the US, its always Hot Chocolate with whipped cream, in NZ, it was Hot Chocolate with marshmallows on the side.  As I was enjoying my cup of Hot Chocolate resisting the marshmallows, I had a sudden flash of the Marshmallow Design Challenge that we did at Stanford as part of the SAPM(Stanford Advanced Project Management) course. Then I looked at the two marshmallows on my plate….the dots connected.  With a smile, I slipped those marshmallows into my cup. 

“I believe it is destiny that brought me closer to you, Marshmallow. I bet its going to be a sweet journey with many inspiring Minds!”

(Posting by Harini, Founder, Marshmallow Minds)

Marshmallow Minds...

For the last year, I have taken a detour from the corporate world to explore various projects. To that end, I

  • attended the on-site Stanford Advanced Project Management (SAPM) program 
  • volunteered more hours at school in the capacity of a VP of the school board
  • managed an 18-month home redesign project
  • expanded my Indian classical music knowledge
  • spent more time with family and friends 

The knowledge, the insights, the friendships and the experience gained through this exploration have made a great deal of difference to me, and have now taken me back to the whiteboard to start a new, exciting journey.  

While I was taking the SAPM program in 2015, one of the courses that had the most impact on me was Project Innovation through Design Thinking (DT). I came out of the program with special DT glasses. I experimented with and experienced DT throughout the rest of my journey, which I share below. It was most fulfilling. 

While serving as the VP of the PTA Board of Directors and volunteering in classrooms, I introduced Design challenges and DT processes into school events and classroom projects. The educators, students and parent community all connected quickly through these shared experiences.   

While working on our home project, I could see the three circles of customer-centered innovation in design engineering, technology and business converging in order to achieve a positive end-user experience.

Even in the field of music education, I realized that the principles of DT can be applied. I was able to accelerate my learning process in just a few months through more experimentation. “Practice differently...not mere repetition of the same melody” was the lesson I took from this experience.    

DT begins with empathy. Empathy, for me, starts with family and friends. When my mother was diagnosed with a condition in her left cornea that would lead to blindness, she was referred to a specialist team at Stanford.  Working with the Stanford medical team was truly a humbling experience and showed me the value of a human-centered approach in healthcare.  

Undoubtedly, the journey of 2015, while wearing my new DT glasses, has truly expanded my vision. I have wondered what would have happened if I had experienced DT 20 or 30 years ago. My wish for students to be able to experience DT from an early age, to improve their chances for a better future, sparked the birth of Marshmallow Minds, a non-profit, Project Based Learning (PBL) Institute for young minds. We see ourselves serving as another “dot” in the DT connected movement, started by Stanford, to inspire and build creative confidence. 

Standing at the gates of K-12 education with a vision to integrate PBL and DT into the Common Core State Standards, in order to foster experiential learning, I am excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.  We will explore the K12 education landscape in depth in order to bring clarity to the nature of the challenges K-12 education face and through experimentation, clear the clouds that obscure the execution path today.

Please check out the website, www.marshmallowminds.orgs and comment! It would be a wonderful opportunity to work with you who are able to volunteer few hours of your time to inspire and build Design Thinking in young minds! If interested, please connect!

(Posting by Harini, Founder, Marshmallow Minds)