What my 10-year-old taught me about industry innovation

Designing the future.
Designing the future.
Image: Reuters/Tanushree Punwan
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When I invited my 10-year-old son and my 11-year-old godson to come to work and hang out at a problem-solving workshop with me for the day, I expected it to be an average bring-your-kids-to-work day. As it turned out, they showed my colleagues and I how we can change the game.

While the professionals in the room were trying to figure out how to get a bot to take notes for them, these boys wanted to end homelessness. With books. And driverless cars. Uh, yeah.

As an (adult) professional, of course I was skeptical. But I was curious, too. I was reminded that children hold a power that we experienced elders do not. They don’t have a playbook, best practice framework, or a preconceived notion of how things should be—and they’ve got no idea what a hierarchy or a silo is.

And that’s exactly why they could help you up your game in your office, as these two elementary school boys did at the PwC BXT Accelerator I brought them to.

These workshops bring about 200 PwC professionals together and split them up into small groups of three to six people to teach them how to apply our new way of working (BXT) through solving a hypothetical client problem. The idea is to get people from across functions—business strategists (B), experience creatives (X), and tech experts (T)—working together to identify solutions and lay the groundwork for bringing bigger ideas and working differently in the future. I figured the kids would just watch everyone else, or maybe ask to join a group if they were feeling bold. But instead, they formed their own group.

That’s when things took a fascinating turn.

My son and godson wanted to do more than just use technology to make work easier. That was small stuff. They wanted to end world hunger. Well, hunger and homelessness in New York City, which is effectively the world that they know.

Their idea: to use autonomous vehicle technology to deliver food, clothing, water, and books to homeless people in New York. Why books? Because if people can read, they told us, they can learn things that could help them get a job. Why autonomous cars? The boys imagined that some homeless people might feel too ashamed to seek help from a person, so removing human-to-human interaction might make people more willing to take that food. When they presented their idea to the room full of people with years of work experience, we were dumbfounded.

Furthermore, unlike adults who are often afraid to offend their peers, these kids weren’t afraid to give feedback to the presenters when an idea didn’t make sense, or had been done before. A lot of these professionals felt a bit sheepish. But, they also felt inspired. Inspired to think bigger. To be clearer. To present ideas in more compelling ways. To think more like a kid.

I’m not suggesting we start employing children, but we could learn how to think and work more like them. That less restrained, childlike sense of wonder and thinking, where a 10-year-old is free to speak up and share ideas without fear, is a mindset more adults in the workplace need to adopt.

Companies must give their employees the skills and language of the digital world. But that’s just a start. They also need to give their employees the freedom to create and innovate, and to encourage different ways of working and a mindset of constant change, iteration and problem-solving.

My son and godson pushed an entire room of some of our brightest people to think bigger. And you can be sure we’ll be bringing kids into many more of these BXT sessions as often as we can.

Just look at the impact kids are already having on the world. Nora Keegan is a thirteen-year-old who was just published in a medical journal after discovering hand dryers may be hurting children’s ears. Greta Thunberg is a sixteen-year-old who is leading the change on environmental action.

Inviting kids into our office opened a window into the possible in ways that we, as adults, might not always see right away. Luckily, all we need is to be reminded. If leaders created an environment where people were allowed to come up with more big ideas, unconstrained by impractical social norms and fears of our bosses or judgement from our peers, then we’d surely already have more, and better, solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

I’ll be the first to admit that my son and godson’s autonomous homeless services idea has a few holes in it, but I’m glad they’re thinking big. And, that’s where the adults and professionals come in to create ways to implement big dreams. In the real world, the grandiose ideas of childlike thinking might have to come down a few pegs. But the mediocre ideas borne out of the social constraints we often operate under in big organizations would surely be elevated a few pegs, too.

The magic happens when we make space for the dreamers and the doers. We need both. To get the calibration right, we need to find ways to give people the freedom and permission to rid themselves of old norms and constraints. It’s up to you—the bosses, the leaders—to create the kind of workplace where everyone has a wide berth to think bigger.