Archive for January, 2014

Foster Passion

January 12, 2014


The work we do best is inspired, it touches or wholly embraces some passion we have. This passion provides the energy to continually make effort and progress.

Augusto Odone, a World Bank economist, provides a great example of what passion can produce.

A polyglot Italian Fulbright scholar who specialized in development economics, Odone was posted to Washington, DC with his family. His son, at six, suddenly began stumbling, mumbling, lost hearing and displayed terrible temper. Doctors said the illness was hopeless and to expect certain death. His child, Lorenzo, had a rare and terrible disease (ALD) in which a faulty chromosome let fatty acids accumulate and cripple the body.

Odone had no prior interest or training in biochemistry, only a high-school science education. However, he began scouring the library at the National Institutes of Health to understand how enzymes work. Through his own reasoning, he identified potential in olive and rapeseed oils as a combination that might inhibit the deadly acids which impaired the nervous system. Medical researchers scoffed at an amateur finding an answer that had eluded them.

Although immobile and uncommunicative, Lorenzo lived 30 years. His father’s discovery was effective in delaying additional decline. “The ALD serpent that had brought so much grief to our family had been tamed,” wrote Odone.

Vindication for a stunning accomplishment was slow in coming. A 1992 film, “Lorenzo’s Oil,” portrays this story. In 2005, a rigorous study showed Odone’s science was sound: while the oil could not reverse effects of ALD, in 75% of the cases it prevented development of the symptoms. Grudging foes acknowledged the discovery.  Lorenzo died in 2008. The charity founded in his name, the Myelin Project, now pursues gene therapy and stem-cell research.

In the face of incalculable odds, a father’s passion had yield for his son and many others worldwide.

What inspires you? What do you know about your team or colleagues that can inspire them? How do you frame challenges to capture their passion? People who love what they do get after it every day. Some, at long odds, deliver amazing results.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

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