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Would You Stoop Over To Pick Up A Penny?

by | Collaboration


I was standing in the security line at O’Hare, and a woman a few places in front of me dropped a penny as she was balancing her bags, her phone, and her purse. She stood there for a split second, thinking about what to do, weighing the cost, then she swiftly stooped over and scooped up the dropped coin.

It’s a penny. It’s not worth much, if anything. It won’t buy a single thing all on its own. Why go through the effort to pick it up?


Over the course of my life, I’ve tossed my fair share of thoughtless statements at others. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, of course, but my careless words hung out there as a testament to my lack of regard for their value as a human being. I’m talking about silly little comments made in passing in the course of doing work, or little side jokes made in good humor, but words clearly targeted at the other person. Even though they laughed along, I could tell that my words struck a deeper nerve than they were indicating with their good humor.

Those little interpersonal interactions, on their own, are like pennies. They don’t do much harm and they’re all in good fun. But over time, as they do begin to add up, they become something much more serious and damaging. Devastating, even, to a team dynamic. Even more costly to our personal relationships and character.

How sad that we will stoop over to pick up a penny that we’ve dropped, even when it’s inconvenient, but we’ll ignore the tensions between us and another person out of a desire to avoid the temporary discomfort of confronting them.

Healthy people, and healthy teams, stoop over to re-claim what is valuable, even when it’s inconvenient.

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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  1. Deb Kolaras

    Love this. The other thing I’d add is I will stoop over to pick up a penny (or any denomination  really) because to me, it’s gratefulness that it’s in my path at all. If I can’t be thankful for the penny, how can I possibly be thankful for anything greater?

    • Todd Henry

      Totally agreed, Deb. That was the thought process that played out as I watched this whole thing happen.

  2. Stephanie Smirnov

    First time commenting, but a longtime podcast listener. Just here to say a big thanks for all the inspiration you provide–penny metaphor included. You’re up to really great stuff at AC and I look forward to whatever’s next!

    • Todd Henry

      Thank you, Stephanie. So glad you’re finding the AC content helpful.

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