The best advice I ever got

Wisdom isn't cultivated just over time, but through relationships. The insights that follow feature some powerful pairings: business partners, government leaders, heads of foundations, mentors, mentees, friends, and something greater -- all share a willingness to learn from one another and grow wise together.

Peter Salovey & Judith Rodin

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In 1981, Peter Salovey entered Yale as a grad student in psychology. He immediately gravitated toward Judith Rodin's work. "She was one of the people -- maybe the only person at the time -- who took basic lab work and used it to answer real-world questions," he says. Rodin and Salovey began working together, teacher and student, and have since become good friends. Today Salovey, 55, is Yale's president and a professor of psychology. Rodin, 69, is president of the Rockefeller Foundation and was previously president of the University of Pennsylvania. The pair recently spoke about some of their earliest collaborations and their ongoing learning from each other. --Ryan Bradley

Salovey: I remember an early meeting, where I was pitching ideas. Judy was helping me figure out which were good or bad. I spilled coffee all over her desk.

Rodin: On me! Not just my desk ...

Salovey: There's an old study that shows if you blunder, your likability goes up. But the thing is, you only get that effect if the person already thinks you're a competent person.

Rodin: Well, Peter was amazing right from the beginning. I try to train my students to consider what matters -- it's so easy to get lost in the ivory tower. In the end, particularly as psychologists, we really are trained to think about what people know and how they act and why that's important in terms of human action and progress.

Salovey: Judy never was interested in just doing the next experiment -- simply reading a few studies and doing the next logical one. Rather, it was to pick problems that are going to have some significant impact on the real world and be a little bit of a scholarly contrarian.

Rodin: This is something I continue to do, whether it's academic or business -- there are a lot of really good, interesting ideas, but only a few really spectacularly important ones. Don't be satisfied with the merely good.

Salovey: I remember once, we had a guest speaker, and afterward we all went out to dinner. He was explaining an experiment and noticing some phenomenon, and I remember Judy saying, "What's the big idea here?" It was clear this person was very smart but had never been asked that question.

Rodin: You need to be willing to take risks. The same holds true to be a great leader. "Don't screw it up" is terrible advice. Well, what does it mean? Don't be brave?

- Last updated November 01 2013 08:54 AM ET
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