It’s amazing how specific instances stick with you for years. A childhood memory that’s profoundly shaped my thinking was from the TV show “All in the Family.” Richard Masur played a mentally challenged grocery store delivery person ­that Archie didn’t trust because he was different. After an unpleasant exchange, the young man disappeared, only to return with a framed quote that was tremendously important to him: “Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him.”

Googling the quote provides mixed opinions on whether it’s from Emerson or Thomas Carlyle. In any case, it will always be linked for me to that program and the impact it’s had on my perspective ever since. It’s caused me to realize that I’m the lesser of every person that I meet and that I need to understand what I should learn from them.

Here’s Your Challenge – Think about the people in your life – the person ­that you don’t quite “get,” the person that gets under your skin, or even the person ­­­that circumstances has dropped into your life unexpectedly or for no apparent reason. What is there that you can learn from that person? It probably isn’t readily apparent, particularly with people that frustrate you. Don’t give up easily though because it may take years to discover; your perseverance will ultimately be rewarded.

I recently had the opportunity to learn from somebody whose personality posed a major challenge to me several years ago when our paths first crossed. Through a lot of prayer and reflection (on my side) and tremendous personal development (on her side), our working relationship improved dramatically over time.

As she left my day-to-day work life recently, what I learned from her became apparent: the incredible personal growth that can take place with someone who is receptive to feedback (even criticism), able to process it without personalizing it to the point of demoralization, and is motivated to truly transform. Under challenging circumstances, she demonstrated a level of poise to which I could only hope to aspire. But if we’d given up on each other, I never would have learned this lesson she taught me – one that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus


  1. 11 Personal Leadership Ideas - A Series on Managing Relationships | The Brainzooming Group | Strategy Consulting and Strategic Planning - June 28, 2011

    […] up and listen for a minute – you hardly ever learn while you’re talking. Are you known as a […]

  2. How to Be Creative While Following Rules | The Brainzooming Group | Strategy Consulting and Strategic Planning - December 1, 2011

    […] Always trying to learn from even stupid encounters, his comment about me following the rules prompted thinking about my relationship to rules. In one sense, the analysis was spot on since I do love to precisely know all about whatever I’m doing to make sure I’m “following” the rules. […]

  3. Capturing Big Ideas and Strategic Connections - Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference | The Brainzooming Group | Strategy Consulting and Strategic Planning - May 11, 2012

    […] who may seem to have little direct connection to what you do. Even if that’s the case, there are always going to be opportunities to learn, especially from someone who knows nothing about what you […]