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Creativity, Innovation and Change MOOC. Week 1 – Paper Tower Exercise “Exorcising the Procrastinator” Martin Silcock. The Task. Find an A-4 size (8"x11") sheet of paper Try and fail multiple times to build the tallest free-standing structure your creative mind can come up with.

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Creativity innovation and change mooc

Creativity, Innovation and Change MOOC

Week 1 – Paper Tower Exercise

“Exorcising the Procrastinator”

Martin Silcock

The task
The Task

  • Find an A-4 size (8"x11") sheet of paper

  • Try and fail multiple times to build the tallest free-standing structure your creative mind can come up with.

  • Share on our Social Media groups and/or discussion forums your best design

Procrastinated thinking does not work
Procrastinated thinking does not work

I found it difficult to actually start playing with ideas without a plan. So I did not do any early trials

I circled around the task, thinking about it at odd moments. I felt a resistance to just start. I think this was because I wanted to visualise the final outcome before starting. I certainly tried to challenge the constraints in my mind in lots of what if and why type questions. It was all very logical

  • What would be the highest tower possible with actual material of A4 sheet?

  • Did it have to be a physical tower, why not a conceptual one?

  • Would a plan for a tower be allowed?

    By this stage I was looking at others people’s attempts and feeling envious about their modelling skill. I also felt slightly disheartened. I saw others actually doing some of the approaches I had thought of that I thought were innovative e.g. someone had photocopied a picture of the highest tower in the world in Dubai. I had been going for cleverness!

    I found myself commenting on other people’s tower? But not having a go myself – a kind of procrastination – when its in your head its ultimately flexible – no commitment

    I did lots of informal thinking (thought experiments?) about the constraints etc. such as:

  • What makes a tower stand up and fall?

  • What are the forces acting on a tower? Gravity and flatness of the surface- wide at the bottom

    This came up with ideas like – “it says nothing g about processing the paper in some way.”

  • How about creating a papier-mâché base and then sticking sticks strengthened by soaking and compressing them into paper stick

  • This led onto idea that to go high you needed to go thin…almost one rigid stick of paper. Could see it in my head, though little voice said – “ah but how do you know it will work in practic? Answer (another little voice) “no problem…just don’t trial it ! “

  • Then I saw the ideas of others on the forum CIC Forums and my heart dropped – they were so good

    But this led to internal talk about : “I have not got time to do that, its will be fiddly and could be a waste of time.” (I did not experiment…I just did not do it, I was happy to leave it there as a conceptual idea….and almost self satisfied that I would never know.

    I also posted on the forums about one example about how I thought maybe competition was great creative stimulus- people wanting to out do each other…but I was not even in the race…I was being beaten before I had even got to the race track….in my head!

    This also led me to think…there was no right answer….you will never know you have the “right” solution – it’s the process that is important so just have a go (maybe the breakthrough thought)

    So now just needed to do something as time was now short- one day to go

Failing fast is like an unfolding story
Failing fast is like an unfolding story

I then started work on the tower. I though t, if I could get to half a meter that would be fine- no time to devote

First , folded the paper in half

Then I folded the sides of the paper into the centre line

Then I stood it on the table – and looked at it…..aha a triangle, could I make triangle tube components and stack them

That seemed good idea as triangles are strong shapes!

Then I cut A4 into 4 strips and repeated the folding at a smaller scale then slotted two tubes together

Yes they stood.

Now for 3rd section …problems met : it would not fit in and remain stable.

Tried to create notches at top of the tube to slot together – partly ok, but not strong enough. Need to make the tube stronger.

How could I interleave the sides…how about a slot and wrap a lug through. Quick snip and slipped together paper sections – wow that is far stronger.

Repeated at other end- even better.

Made two of these and yes that worked + the lugs also acted as bases for each section. Happy had solved it….so just made the top two sections much tighter an d slotted together and held together by friction

Tried to erect tower – aw no, instability at bottom. Toppling over – too top heavy, need a wider base

Fixed it by opening up the bottom lug on first section for wider footprint on table

Success- deep breathe- and sigh

Creativity innovation and change mooc

When I saw the triangle

having folded into 4 strips tube the penny dropped and I had a strategy to try

The final tower

After a successful

tower I created larger sized

component out of A4 to show

the lock construction

This was needed as the components

tended to open up

The locking also created a resting

point for the next section

The top 2 sections I made thinner

and just slotted in to get to 65cm


  • Just get started – Maybe create an artificial time deadline to get started earlier

  • Set a goal you will be happy with this time around – know what success looks like (even if its is less than perfect)

  • Find something to play with easily easy to go around the experiment cycle quicker – faster feedback

  • Keep it simple at first – get a feel for the materials

  • Pick one route and flow it through – don’t think of alternatives once you have started – you’ll loose commitment and flow

  • Look for components or modules that can be linked together – Lego thinking

  • Solve problems as they come up – improvise

  • Look at others for principles they have found

  • Look for the underlying principles and when found follow their logic

  • Reflecting on the process of failing fast is like a story of challenge and solutions

  • Competition can help – ideas of others…but beware getting demoralised

  • Need for accuracy – take time to create your experiments (I was not using ruler, just folding and tearing)

  • There is no right answer – it’s what you are happy with v your original goal

  • You can’t fail fast in your head- you need to do it for real