I was in conversation over a drink with some good friends the other day, and the question came up “who’s been your greatest teacher?” Inevitably, we all initially gravitated towards people who have inspired us: an old boss, an old coach or an old school teacher. You know, the usual pat answers we give to this question.

Then one of the group piped up “I reckon my greatest teacher has been my stuff-ups!” As in, you learn the most from your mistakes, right? Of course. 

We often think of teaching as something that is done to us, by someone else. We all agreed that that’s a pretty narrow definition of teaching. We asked “what if we thought of teaching as something we took from any and all experiences and situations? How might our learning accelerate?

That blew the conversation right open. We had another drink and got creative. Here are three less obvious sources of learning that we came up with:


“The minute that you’re not learning I believe you’re dead.” – Jack Nicholson


The Shadow 

The shadow is the antithesis of awesome. You know, the worst boss you ever had. The worst service you ever had. The worst holiday you ever had. But, of course, these people and situations can be awesome teachers. You learn what doesn’t work for you, for a start. And then you go and seek out more of its opposite.


Your Context

One of our group talked about context as a powerful teacher. His story was about how he facilitated an executive team offsite after not having done so for a while. He was feeling pretty rusty, and he showed up more nervous than he usually would. He got through it and they got a good outcome, but with a cost of a lack of real enjoyment for him. The lesson? Do what it takes to get in the zone beforehand. That’s your context – the circumstances that form the setting for an event – teaching you a lesson.


Your Powers of Observation

I often ask participants in my workshops to observe people in cafes. I get them not just to notice the obvious details like what people are wearing, but to also notice the subtler things, like their facial expressions in conversation, how they listen, and what distracts them. Without fail, participants come back saying how much they’ve learned just by slowing down, and observing. Looking vs. really seeing. Hearing vs. really listening. Staying in your head vs. really feeling it. It’s all about slowing down and taking the time to observe what’s really going on.


The Point?

When change is a part of our everyday lives – and that’s the case for pretty much everyone – we need to prioritise learning as much as we do getting stuff done. We need to keep evolving. We can’t afford to wait for teachers and training sessions. We need to find lessons in and from everything we do, every day. 

Teachers are everywhere.

Go find them.

For more like this, check out:

Be a Childlike Grownup

How To Be Curious



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