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The Big Brain Theory: Follow-Through Beats Creativity in the Final Round


In the finale episode of the Discovery series The Big Brain Theory, the final two contestants, Amy and Corey, were tasked with building a short bridge. Since that concept is a little too easy for genius engineers, there were a couple of twists.

The first twist was that the bridge had to be compact enough to fit into the back of a pick-up truck. Once at the location, the teams could use the truck as an anchor point while the bridge was deployed. They went with this concept because of its real world application in military situations.


With that in mind, Amy and Corey were given 30 minutes to come up with a design concept. Corey went with a telescoping bridge similar to how ladders expand on a fire truck. Simple, but not very inventive.

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Amy wanted to go with a more complicated system that involved folding tetrahedrons. A much more elegant solution to the problem, she won the Blueprint Challenge and first pick of the remaining contestants.

She chose Gui for his ability to think through difficult problems. Corey didn’t mind coming in second, because he got Tom the master welder. A much better choice when you’re building a bridge.

Time for the second twist. Not only did the bridge have to be portable, it had to be strong enough to hold the weight of the pick-up truck as it crossed from one side to the other.

That twist forced both teams to rethink their plans. Corey got right into it, coming up with a tracked trestle design that would swing into place rather than telescope. 

Amy let Gui and Eric lead the brainstorming team for a new solution while she. . . it was never made clear what she was doing, but she wasn’t leading, that’s for sure. The lack of guidance led to wasted time and bad feelings between two of the team members. What they finally came up with was a complex series of connected triangles with a cable running through the pipes for stability. Even the visiting expert thought it was an overworked design but they held fast, working right up to the last second of the last day.

Over on Corey’s side, the build went smoothly. Even the former troublemaker Dan was on board and helpful. Everyone agreed that the concept was good, but no one was sure that it would hold the weight of the truck. When questioned by the expert as to the load bearing ability, the team couldn’t come up with a solid answer. They did some calculations on paper, but clearly that wasn’t enough to satisfy the judges.

Mind the Gap

On judgment day, both teams were able to get their rigs into the trucks and over to the job site. Corey’s simple bridge assembled easily but the team ran into some trouble when they tried to swing the giant arm out over the ravine. The pick-up wasn’t strong enough to handle the weight and the movement and twice the vehicle almost flipped over on its side.

Corey, who was watching every move, stopped when things got dangerous, reevaluated the situation, then put his plan into motion again. With his leadership, the team was able to safely deploy the bridge.

Amy’s team also ran into a weight problem when they began expanding the bridge across the empty space. The longer the bridge got, the more the front end dipped down below the edge of the ravine. The team tried tightening the guide cables but eventually ran out of room. Amy’s bridge couldn’t be anchored on the far side and so the safety team refused to allow her to test it.

So it all came down to a test drive over Corey’s bridge. The truck made it easily and Corey was declared the winner of The Big Brain Theory. Simple and functional won out over creative and a glitch.

The judges also handed out a second prize to the best team player overall. That went to Tom for his ability to work well with others and his willingness to teach his teammates new skills. 

What Do You Think?

Who is more valuable to a company, a creative thinker or a solid leader? Leave your answers in the comment section. 

More From Payscale

The Big Brain Theory: Leadership Lessons and a Real World Test

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5 TED Talks on Women and Leadership

Photo courtesy of Discovery

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