Issue 4 – Unwrapping leadership lessons: what watching young minds can teach us

Today’s BIG talk arrives from the “accidental” genius of small kids. 

Carlo Odicino, CEO at One TEAM Partners

December 13, 2023

Today’s read is ±4 minutes 

Back in September, I shared a post about the “accidental” genius of children. As we enjoy the festive season, I’ve found myself noticing leadership lessons from my kids and their friends once more.  From flourishing imaginations to admirable persistence, here are two lessons to mull over as we head toward the new year.

Lesson 1: Remember imagination?

Kids’ imaginations are on turbo this time of year. It’s amazing to watch. Just last week, on one of the many car rides during the week with my kids, my youngest conjured up a game to play to pass the time. I’ll spare you all the intricate rules, one of which involved spotting a Volkswagen Beetle and not only shouting “slug bug!” but also chanting “ho ho ho” and then closing your eyes for 10 seconds. Needless to say, not a great game for the driver to play…so I lost – handily. 

Watching younger minds work reminds me just how important imagination is, particularly to those working in the life sciences industry. To create a different future, you first need to be able to imagine it. And to imagine it, you might need to explore ideas that are at odds with your own reality.

Have you seen the Pixar movie, Inside Out, which is set inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl? If not, I highly recommend it. It’s got some fantastic analogies for how the human brain works. One of my favorite scenes happens when two of the characters are on board the Train of Thought on their way back to the brain. One of them knocks over some boxes labeled ‘Facts’ and ‘Opinions’, causing them to get mixed up in a heap on the floor. “Oh no,” she says. “These facts and opinions look so similar.” “Don’t worry about it,” says her accomplice as he haphazardly stuffs them back into the boxes. “It happens all the time.”

Everyone’s reality is warped by their own biases, experiences, emotions, etc. These biases create blind spots which eliminate possibilities for innovation. Imagination can be the most unconstrained place in our minds if we’re willing to go there to dream up new realities. Young minds, and their movies, have reminded me of that.

Lesson 2: You’ll work hardest at what you love

My 14-year-old made me smile yesterday. He had absolutely zero interest in helping me with decorations. Go figure. He kept disappearing to find something else he needed to do. Like go eat lunch or else he might starve (#sarcasm). Recognizing I wasn’t going to win, I let him free and continued with the joyous task myself. 

After a couple of hours, I realized I hadn’t seen or heard him in a while which I thought for sure meant he had hopped back on playing video games which he knew he wasn’t supposed to do. Do you know where I found him? In his room, strumming quietly on his guitar (if he had his amp plugged in it wouldn’t have been so quiet – but I digress). He’d been in there the whole time re-stringing his guitar and then practicing for his upcoming holiday performance. Note: he played a killer version of ‘Run Rudolph Run’ if I do say so myself. He couldn’t help me put up decorations for more than 10 minutes at a time but give him his guitar and he’s locked in.  

Hanging decorations didn’t motivate him, practicing did. This shows the power of passion – people work hardest at something they care about. If I think about myself throughout my career, this rings true too. Of course, as we get older we get better at sucking it up and getting on with things we’re less interested in (paying bills will do that to a person). But if I think about the times in my career that stand out – when I worked the hardest – it’s the times I was working on something I cared about. 

The lesson delivered by my 14-year-old is to create opportunities for you, and the people around you, to work on what you love. 

And with that, I wish everyone a joyful and restful holiday season. 

If you’re spending any time with kids, be sure to observe them. They really can teach us so much about operating in the working world. 


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