May 5, 2022
[00:00:06] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Have you ever regretted losing touch with a friend? Not being bold enough in a career decision? To learn how regret works, I sat down with Daniel Pink, author of five New York Times bestsellers, to discuss his most recent book, “The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward.” Regret is a common, complex, negative emotion. Through Dan’s research of thousands of people, he found that there are four core types of regret: foundational, boldness, moral, and connection. The most common category was connection regrets, which are related to the loss of relationships. Dan is on a mission to normalize our understanding of regret. When regrets are treated right, it clarifies what we value and instructs us and how to learn from them. For example, reflecting on a regret can improve skills such as problem solving, strategy development, and negotiation. Regret can be a powerful tool for leaders by examining regrets, exploring lessons learned, and showcasing next steps. Regrets may be uncomfortable and even painful, but when addressed directly, they can be transformative.
Well, good afternoon, Dan. And welcome.
[00:01:18] Daniel Pink: Thank you, Gary. Thanks for having me on your show.
[00:01:20] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: We know you as the author of seven books, five of which are New York times bestsellers. Congratulations. Host of Ted Talks, Masterclass. Looking at it from the outside, Dan, I don’t see a lot of room for regrets here.
[00:01:35] Daniel Pink: There is so much room. I could build an addition to my house to encase all of regret like all human beings, I’ve got plenty of regrets.
[00:01:46] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: As we all do. So you’ve been publishing at the rate of a book every three years or so. Can we look forward to that pace continuing?
[00:01:54] Daniel Pink: Honestly I have no. idea. Truly. Maybe. I’ll give you a definitive maybe, Gary. It’s a definitive, unequivocal maybe.
[00:02:02] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Before we dig into your newest New York times bestselling book, “The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward”, we’d like to get to know you a bit better, Dan. To that end, what was life like growing up?
[00:02:17] Daniel Pink: What was life like growing up? Well, I grew up in central Ohio in a pretty kind of middle class, middle of the road, middle America kind of setting. Kind of shocking to think about it now, but the place where I lived was like overwhelmingly white. I mean, like when I say overwhelming, I mean 99% white. Sort of looking at the world, America today, and looking at my kids’ upbringing, I realized that was just really strange. I didn’t realize it at the time. I think it was a fairly normal middle America, middle-class childhood. I mean, I benefited from, I went to a public school that was two blocks from my house. Elementary school was two blocks from my house. The junior high was two blocks from my house. The high school was two blocks from my house. There was a public library about a 10 minute walk from my house. People had 4th of July parades and all the kids played team sports. And there are many worse ways to grow up.
[00:03:21] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yeah, well, that’s for sure. How about your parents? Did they influence your life choices like choosing schools and professions and so on?
[00:03:31] Daniel Pink: My parents were pretty hands off with their kids. They pretty much, they had other things to deal with in their lives. So they were pretty much hands off. I think that was partly the times, also. I grew up pre-helicopter parents. So, when we moved to a new neighborhood when I was about must’ve been seven, we moved within Columbus to a new neighborhood. And I remember my brother who was six, just a year younger, my mother said, oh, why don’t you guys just walk to your new school so you figure out how to get there? And we just went off at age seven and six walk, you know, which is I think totally great. Whereas now most parents would be completely, a seven year old boy and a six year old boy taking a two and a half block walk in a place that they’d never been before was just too terrifying. I mean, I think my mother was totally right about that.
[00:04:22] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yeah. That would not happen today. Do you think that the way you processed regrets, did you learn that at all from your parents? Did they influence you in that regard?
[00:04:31] Daniel Pink: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think too much. I mean, I don’t know. I didn’t really even stop to reflect on regrets too too much until I was much, much older. I mean, I think that I, like all human beings, was beset by some kind of regrets and I probably didn’t process them well. But, I didn’t really learn to do that systematically until I started doing the research for this book.
[00:04:52] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Well, did your interest in writing or politics come first?
[00:04:56] Daniel Pink: It’s an interesting question. I’m not sure. I think what I think the interest that came first for me was reading. And I think that led to these other kinds of interests. It’s interesting, your line of inquiry where you’re looking for, you’re looking to some extent for, what are the forces, if any, that shaped the child to become the adult. And I don’t know, I think that in some cases, we confect those. We overstate those. So we look at the influence of parents, which I think is often overstated. We look at the influence of schools, which is often overstated. For me, if there was one influence, I’ve mentioned it briefly before, it was access to a public library. That was transformative for me. That really was. And I had the good fortune of growing up in central Ohio, which has one of the best public library systems in the United States. And so there was, as I said, there was a very, very good library walking distance from where I grew up. And one could even go to this giant, cavernous, pretty gorgeous library, actually, in downtown Columbus on Grant Avenue. The main branch of the Columbus Public Library was this very large, it might’ve been built and designed by Carnegie from that era. And it was just this incredible, cavernous, huge place. And one could take the bus down there because, at that point, parents let their kids take buses places. And even my mother would sometimes throw her three kids in the back seat of the car and drive down there because she wanted to go there and do her thing and just sort of drop the kids off and say, okay guys, I’ll see you in a few hours. And that was great. So anyway, forgive that led trip down memory lane, but I think it’s responsive to your question that I think if you want to know which came first, politics or writing, I think the answer is reading.
[00:06:48] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: After Northwestern, and I guess after Yale Law, that’s when you went to Washington, right? So at some point along the line, you were the chief speechwriter for for Vice President Al Gore, after which you basically hung up your shingle, I believe. So what led you to saying, I want to write on my own account, not somebody else’s?
[00:07:09] Daniel Pink: It was a few things. Number one is that, as you mentioned, I was keenly interested in politics. And when I finally got into the belly of the beast and worked there for several years, I realized I was less interested than I had thought. I think, a lot of times, when you look at a profession and you look at an industry, you look at anything from the outside, you have a certain set of assumptions about it. And then when you get into it, some of your assumptions are right. And some of them are wrong. I think that’s true for a lot of people in a lot of different kinds of professions. For me, I was very fortunate that I was able to work with some really, really great people. When I worked in politics, I was very fortunate that my colleagues and even most of my bosses were outstanding, just first rate. And that’s fantastic, I’m hugely fortunate on that. I just didn’t want to work in politics the rest of my life. And I sort of saw the trajectory and that’s not what I wanted to do. Meanwhile, going back to one of your earlier questions for, you know, a couple of decades at least, or probably some time I was like in high school, I was always quote unquote writing on the side. So it was always like writing magazine. I was writing magazine articles and essays and op-eds and that kind of stuff. And I just saw it as like a side thing that I did because I liked doing it, but eventually it occurred to me that what I was doing on the side should be what I was doing in the center, that what I really wanted to do when I grew up was to become a writer. It took me a while to figure that out. I didn’t really become a writer on my own, of my own stuff, a regular writer of my own stuff as my profession, until I was in my early thirties.
[00:08:38] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Well, it was a great decision for those of us who are readers, so well done there. Well, turning to “The Power of Regret”, what is a regret? How do you think about a regret, Dan?
[00:08:50] Daniel Pink: So regret is an emotion. Let’s start with there. It’s an emotion, it’s a feeling, and it’s a bad feeling. It’s a negative emotion. It causes us some amount of psychic pain and psychic distress. I think that’s the first thing to understand. So that’s fairly simple. I think the process by which it occurs is surprisingly complicated or complex and actually reflects just how incredible our brains are. So it emerges when you look backward and you examine a decision or an indecision and say, if only I had done that, or if only I had not done that, things would be different today. The present would be different and the future would be different. And so it involves mental time travel because you’re traveling back in time. It involves a degree of storytelling and what I like to call fabulism in that you’re rewriting the past story. But then, because you’ve rewritten the past story, when you get back in your time machine to the present, the present now, it looks different because you’ve reconfigured the past. So it’s incredibly cognitively sophisticated. That’s the process by which this emotion takes hold. I think the most important thing to understand about regret is how common it is, how ubiquitous it is, how universal it is, how omnipresent it is.
[00:10:01] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: What about the crowd that says, I have no regrets? You referred to that several times in your book in multiple ways. But in your research particularly, did you figure out why people are putting themselves in that position?
[00:10:14] Daniel Pink: It’s a really, really good question. And I don’t think there’s a single reason. I think there are multiple reasons. One of them is that we’ve sort of gone overboard on positivity. We think that the way to lead a good life is to be positive all the time, to never be negative, to always look forward and never look back. And the thing is, it’s like, there’s some logic behind that because we want to have positive emotions. We want to have plenty of positive emotions. I want to have plenty of positive emotions. I want you to have plenty of positive emotions. But I don’t want you or me or anybody to have only positive emotions because that’s not functional. That’s not productive. Negative emotions serve a purpose. They serve a function. And that’s particularly true of our most common negative emotion, regret. SO part of it is too much of a good thing. The other thing really though, I think, is that we haven’t been taught a systematic way to deal with negative emotion. So as a consequence, too many of us, when we feel the spear of negativity, particularly the spear of negativity that comes from regret, we go two polar directions. One, we ignore it. We put our fingers in the ears and say, nah nah nah nah, I don’t want to hear this. Never look backward, always be positive. Or when that doesn’t work or the regrets begin accumulating, we end up essentially getting toppled by it, consumed by it. We ended up wallowing in our regrets. We ruminate on regrets. That’s really bad too. What we want to do for negative emotions in general, and this negative emotion in particular, is confront it, look at it, examine it, think about it, use it as signal, use it as data, use it as information. And when we do that, regret is a transformative emotion.
[00:12:00] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: What about the benefits? What are the high level view of benefits of regrets?
[00:12:05] Daniel Pink: Well, there are a lot of benefits of treating regret properly. So if we don’t ignore it and we don’t wallow in it, we actually confront it, lean into it, there’s a whole pile of research. It can help us avoid cognitive biases. It can help us become better negotiators. A lot of research on problem solving. It can help us become better problem solvers. It can help us become better strategists. It can help us become better parents. It can help us find greater meaning in life. So there’s a whole array of benefits that, if we go back, let’s take negotiation since you have a lot of executives. There’s research from Adam Galinsky and others, that show that you go, you put people into a negotiation exercise, they leave it. Then at the, when they’re done, they sit, they ask people to think about what they regret in that. Negotiation. Okay. Instead of trying to push away this averse of emotion, they invite it. What do I regret? Let me lean into that regret. Okay. I regret that I made too weak of a first offer. And it feels bad. Remember, regret is an emotion that hurts. So you invite that negative feeling. When you do that, though, people do better in the next negotiation because they’re using regret as a signal. They’re using regret as a teacher, rather than as something to ignore or something to be consumed by.
[00:13:13] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Some people would be better learners from regrets. I’m sure you can over bake that. But some people to be better at that, I mean, why it’s just something natural or is this something learned?
[00:13:26] Daniel Pink: Maybe. I think it’s probably true that some people are better at it. Whether that’s because of a natural capacity or because of learned behavior, I’m going to lean a little bit more toward learned behavior, that they’re better equipped through their life experiences to contend with negative emotions, to contend with rejection.
It’s an interesting question. My hunch, and it’s only a hunch, is that there probably are differences in people’s immediate capacity to deal with it. But I think that comes much more from circumstance than from anything innate. And I think the main thing that it comes from is that most of us haven’t been taught how to deal with negative emotions or how to deal with regret.
[00:14:00] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: I mean, one thing you see with leaders is they have to stand back from the moment. They have to stand back from all the tactics going on around them. And that perspective, strikes me, could be very helpful in this case.
[00:14:13] Daniel Pink: Extremely. In fact, that’s kind of what’s called self distancing is an essential part of the process for kind of defanging, making sense of, and learning from regrets.
[00:14:29] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: You also wonder if level of success in life might enter in here because people that are successful can probably position a regret in such a way that it’s not such a huge thing for them.
[00:14:44] Daniel Pink: Maybe. I also think it could cut the other way. So I’m not sure. One of the things that, from the book, I did this very large public opinion survey of people in the United States, a very, very large sample, 4,489 Americans. And we did that in order to understand, largely in order to understand demographic differences in what people regret, how they regret, propensity, blah, blah, blah, blah. And one of the differences we found, which is kind of curious, is that people who had more formal education, college degree, advanced degree, they had more career regrets than people who didn’t. Now that seems, oh, well, what, how could that be? To your point, it’s like the successful people have fewer and actually we don’t know why, but I think a reason for that is that, if you have more formal education, you have more career opportunities and therefore more forgone career opportunities. And so it could, the same thing could be going, I don’t know, in your example, that actually people who’ve achieved some measure of professional success actually have more regrets because they think, wow, I achieved, but I could have achieved a higher level. I achieved in this one realm. Perhaps I should have picked another realm and had even greater achievements there.
[00:15:55] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Maybe they just have more opportunities. And with more opportunities, you’re probably going to end up having more regrets. But the survey is interesting. So there was the American survey, which is a public opinion survey. And then you had up to now, I guess, 17,000 people have weighed in, that was a worldwide survey. And then you did some qualitative surveys where you talk to people individually, right? So is that, am I looking at that right?
[00:16:20] Daniel Pink: Yeah, that’s right. I did what I called the American Regret Project, which was a giant public opinion survey about US attitudes on regret, the largest survey of the sort ever done. Then I also did this thing called a World Regret Survey, which was qualitative and it was more of a collection tool where I asked people around the world to submit one of their big regrets. And we got a stunning response. We’re now over 20,000 regrets from people in 109 countries. It’s unbelievable. And then within there, about 190 of those people who submitted regrets, I actually interviewed. Because of the pandemic, they were almost all over, I think they were all over Zoom. I don’t think I did, it’s kind of amazing actually, I don’t think I did any in-person interviews. So when you look at the World Regrets Survey, this qualitative thing, what I found is that, around the world, people, over and over again, had the same four regrets and these four regrets had less to do with the domains of somebody’s life. This is a career regret. This is an education regret. This is a romance regret. And more to do with this something deeper going on underneath. So I’ll quickly go through the four core regrets. One of them is what call a foundation regret. A foundation regret is, if only I’d done the work. A classic example of this are people who spend too much money and save too little money. You see a lot of it in health. So you see people who, I didn’t exercise. I didn’t eat right, I didn’t take care of my body. I made small decisions early that accumulated to terrible consequences later on. So that’s foundation regrets. Boldness regrets. If only I’d taken the chance. These are people who regret not traveling, not going on adventures, not speaking up, not asking people out on dates, not starting their own business. Third category, moral regrets. If only I’d done the right thing. The two biggest examples there are regrets about bullying and then regrets about marital infidelity. But we have other forms of cheating, other forms of some number of people who felt that they had desecrated the sacred. So that’s moral regrets. And then finally our connection regrets, which are about relationships, and again, mostly not romantic relationships, but all the relationships where they come apart and we don’t do anything, and then we regret it. And that is, those are, if only I’d reached out.
[00:18:29] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: So most regrets are painful to some degree.
[00:18:32] Daniel Pink: All regrets are painful. I mean, I think that pain, and this is actually a really important point you’re making here, is that regret by its very nature is painful. If regret is not painful, it’s probably not regret. And that’s part of the point, the point here, I mean, I think that’s so essential here. It’s that regret treated right clarifies what we value and instructs us on how to do better. It clarifies what we value and instructs us on how to do better. Now, if you say I got this thing that clarifies what you value and help and instructs you how to do better, I want that, right? So people want the clarification and they want the instruction, but they don’t want the discomfort. They don’t want the pain. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s a package deal. And arguably, I mean, not even arguably, the pain, the discomfort, is the source of the clarification and improvement.
[00:19:26] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: If you learn from the regret, let’s just say something happens bad, you learn from it, does that absolve the pain or are you always going to feel pain about that regret?
[00:19:39] Daniel Pink: That’s a very interesting question and I’m not sure. I don’t know. It’s almost like a theological question about whether, if you properly process the regret, does that eliminate it? And my view, and it’s just an intuitive view because I don’t even know of a way to answer that question, is that it doesn’t eliminate it, but it extinguishes it in that the ashes remain, but it’s not fully, it hasn’t fully disappeared. That’s my view of it. And so ashes are far less menacing than the flame. There’s probably a residue left of it. The residue still exists, but it doesn’t cause a lot if they regret it properly, if the regret is properly resolved.
[00:20:26] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: I think that’s right. It’s always there. But at least I feel better if I think I’ve done something about it, if I have learned from it, then I feel like I can handle it.
[00:20:36] Daniel Pink: Yeah, no, I think it definitely mitigates the pain and might even eliminate the pain, but I don’t think it fully extinguishes the regret. I think the ashes remain.
[00:20:47] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: So did the qualitative survey, the worldwide survey and the American survey, were there similarities in how Americans and people outside this country deal with these issues, or did you see some differences there?
[00:21:00] Daniel Pink: Again, with the World Regrets Survey, that was qualitative and it wasn’t a random sample. So I couldn’t make any reasonable claims about national differences. What I saw eyeballing and having read the first 15,000 of the regrets, and then realizing that what people were telling me in those qualitative regrets was something actually quite fascinating, that there was this kind of deeper structure of regret, I thought that was super interesting. I didn’t see a a huge amount of national variation in those regre, in fact, very little national variation in the regrets. And in the American survey, which again, which we did largely to find demographic differences, there were not vast demographic differences. I mean, as I mentioned, there were some differences on this point about on education. There were some minor differences on race, particularly when it comes to like education regrets. There were some minor differences on gender, that is men had more career regrets, women had more family regrets. The one big demographic difference came out that I feel very secure in its accuracy, I’m convinced this is accurate because it also reflects what other people have found, but at a very, it was like the only super strong finding demographically had to do with age. And it was that when people are young, they tend to have equal numbers of action regrets and inaction regrets, equal numbers of regrets about what they did and what they didn’t do. But as we age, really even, not even age that much, into our 30s, 40s, certainly 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, inaction regrets, take over by about two to one. I’m in my fifties, by the time you get to my age, on average, people have two inaction regrets for every action regret.
[00:22:39] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: I know you talked about the moral regrets and that was a relatively small percentage, I guess, 10% of it. What about the other three? How did they stack up?
[00:22:47] Daniel Pink: The biggest category was connection regrets. The second biggest category was boldness regrets. And the third biggest category was foundation regrets. And the smallest was moral. Moral was easily the smallest. And I think, actually, that helps explain what I just said, because if you look at connection regrets, most connection regrets are regrets of inaction. I wanted to reach out. I didn’t reach out. Most boldness regrets, almost all boldness regrets, are regrets of inaction. So the two biggest categories are composed almost entirely of inaction regrets.
[00:23:16] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: So the boldness category, the story about Bruce, I’m sure everybody wants to know about Bruce. I mean, that one bothered me more than anything I read in the book. I just, oh my God…
[00:23:27] Daniel Pink: Bruce is somebody who filled out the survey. And when I saw his regret, I interviewed him a couple of times and he’s a lovely guy and his regret was that he was riding a train. He graduated from college in the early 1980s. He went to Europe to work for a year. He’s taking a train in Europe in one of his final weeks in on the continent and a woman comes down, a woman sits next to him on the train. This woman is Belgian. She’s working in France as an au pair. They hit it off immediately. They’re talking, they’re laughing, they’re playing word games. They’re holding hands. It’s like something out of a movie. And the train is rumbling along. And finally, when it gets to Belgium, where her hometown is, she says, I got to get off the train now. And Bruce says, I’ll come with you. And she’s like, well, I think my father would kill me. Bruce doesn’t know what to do. And so he just writes his mother’s mailing address on a piece of paper, hands it to her, they kiss, and she exits. And 40 years later in the World Regret Surey, he said, I never saw her again and I always wished I stepped off the train. And I think that’s a fascinating metaphor and that’s essentially what boldness regrets are. And I think unpacking Bruce’s regret is fascinating here because when I interviewed him, he didn’t say, oh, if I had gotten off that train, I would be married to this woman. I would be a dual citizen of the United States and the EU. I would be a French speaker. I would be whatever. He wasn’t conjuring this kind of fantastical counterfactual of how his life would have been, specifically, how his life would have been better. What bugs him, I think, is, at that moment, he didn’t step off the train. At that moment, he was at a juncture in his life, and that’s where these regrets hit us. You’re a juncture in your life. You can play it safe or you can take the chance. And when we don’t take the chance, we often regret it much more than I would have expected.
[00:25:12] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yeah. Yeah. I could definitely see that. You wonder, the great resignation, we’re starting to see some evidence that people feel like they made a mistake when they jumped, off the ship, so to speak. Do you see that coming back as a series of regrets about maybe being too bold, if you want to look at it that way?
[00:25:32] Daniel Pink: Maybe. There were some people who had regrets about excess boldness, but not that many. I’ll give you a good example of that, it has to do with starting a business. I have people in the database who say, I started this business. It was a colossal failure. I wish I had never done it and stayed working at a job. There were people like that. But for every one of those, there were 45 people who had a different kind of regret. So they were vastly, vastly outnumbered by that. So there aren’t that many regrets about excessive boldness and the regrets about excessive boldness are often regrets that sort of are about conscientiousness. There’s a big difference between saying, oh, I regret that I didn’t study abroad in college. That’s a clear boldness regret and there are a lot of those. There are very few regrets that say, there are one or a few that say, oh, you know what, I decided to go on an adventure halfway through my sophomore year and I just dropped out of college and I went to Mexico and I spent three years in Mexico bumming around. And that probably wasn’t a good idea.
[00:26:34] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yeah. I wondered about boldness in the case o,f some people maybe aren’t bold because they just feel they don’t have the ability to follow through on whatever that decision was. Did you pick any of that up?
[00:26:47] Daniel Pink: That’s interesting. That’s an interesting point. There could be some of that. What I found more than anything else is that people were slightly overindexed on how much risk there was in all of these boldness regrets, that what they imagine the risk was and what the actual risk was, were disproportionate. Let’s take an example like asking somebody out on a date, which was a surprisingly common regret, not doing that. I think people hadn’t really thought through the consequences of that. Let’s say that there’s a person you like and you ask them out on a date. The worst case scenario is the person says no and you’re back at the status quo. That’s not the end of the world. And so it’s that failure to step up. I think maybe retrospectively they realized that they had anticipated too much risk. It’s the same thing true with some of these connection regrets, where people want to reach out. I’ve got this friend. I haven’t talked to him for 10 years. We were close friends at one point. We just drifted apart. I’m gonna, I should call them. Oh, wait, it’s going to be really awkward if I call after 10 years and he’s not going to care and we’re wrong on both fronts. And like the regret about excessive fear of risk, the fear of awkwardness is way overstated, just way overstated. When you end up doing that, it’s way less awkward than you think. And also the other side is almost always receptive to that. And so at some level, we have these fears of calamity if we do things and they’re so overstated that, if we actually step up and do it and look back on that fear, they’re almost laughable.
[00:28:19] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: In the moral regret section of the book where you’re talking about that, you have a section called the five regretted sins, which as a preacher’s kid, my dad was a minister, of course, I had to tune in one that one. But it’s pretty interesting that, of the five regrettable sins, a lot of them, or maybe at least three of them, felt like they were very religious in nature.
[00:28:41] Daniel Pink: Oh, I think that all of them, I’ll go further than that, I think that all of them can be religious in nature. I mean, let’s take one of the prevalent regrets was marital infidelity. We have a commandment against that. I think it’s number seven, if I remember my Bible right. Seventh commandment is adultery? Anyway, well, we know that. We have people who regret stealing. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, there’s a religious cardinal principle about that. I think that a lot of the moral regrets have a great affinity to religion. In fact, I’ll go even further, Gary. I’ll see you and raise you on the point about religion in that secular society doesn’t deal with regret very well. Secular society doesn’t deal with negative emotions very well. I think religious tradition do a better job of it. And not any particular religious tradition. I mean, all. So if you look at Catholicism, Catholicism has, for regret let’s say moral regrets, confession. That’s at some level what the people who are filling out the world regrets survey were doing when they told me about one of their moral regrets. They were confessing. So confession and repentance. That is, you confess to unburden, you confess to begin the sense-making process. You repent to try to do better, undo it, move forward. Judaism has a day, an entire day in the calendar carved out to atone for your sins. Even more broadly, if you look at another negative emotion like grief, every religious tradition has rituals and sense-making practices to help people deal with that horrible negative emotion of grief. So I actually think our religious traditions, the world’s religious traditions, do a better job of helping people contend with negative emotionsthan secular society does. Secular society is often the one that is giving the edict to be positive, never look backward.
[00:30:34] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: It’s unfortunate my father isn’t with us anymore because I can guarantee you this would be the subject of a sermon, what you just went through in your book. What about leaders and leadership? Obviously, we have a lot of leaders that listen to the show, but have you heard anything about how leaders can use regrets as part of leadership?
[00:30:55] Daniel Pink: There are a variety of things. I mean, again, if you look at some of the benefits of regrets and dealing with them properly, we’re talking about decision-making, negotiation, strategy. Like those are things obviously that leaders do. I think there’s something to be said, just as a very small starting practice, that what leaders should do, and one of the things that I’m trying to do in this book, in this basket of ideasm is normalize regret, is normalized regret. And I want to normalize regret because it’s normal. Leaders can help in that process by doing something very simple. You go to a meeting or something like that and at the meeting you say, let me tell you about one regret that I have, let me tell you what I learned from it, and let me tell you what I’m going to do about it. I think that is powerful and catalytic on a couple of dimensions. The first is that we sometimes fear that when we disclose our mistakes and our vulnerabilities, people will think less of us. And there’s a lot of evidence showing that’s wrong, that they actually think more of us. They admire our courage. It builds affinity. So it’s a way for a leader, for her to build affinity. The second thing is that it normalizes regret and allows people to actually talk about and surface their regrets and try to make sense of them and draw lessons from them. And the more that we are able to individually and collectively look at our mistakes and not terrorize ourselves for them, but examine them almost scientifically, ooh, look at this mistake, let me hold it up to the light, examine it and draw lessons from it, we’re going to improve in the future. So to me, that’s the single biggest thing a leader can do. Talk about one of our regrets. Don’t just leave it there, though. Explain what you learned from it and then tell, explain what you’re going to do about it.
[00:32:42] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yeah, I think so. That might be a good business for you, Dan, if you want to go there.
[00:32:48] Daniel Pink: That’s interesting, yeah. Yeah, no, I think that’s an interesting idea. And I think that, again, I’m a big believer in very simple, lightweight interventions. Like, if you’re listening to this, give that a try. What I have found over time is that doing this kind of thing, revealing a regret, telling what you learned from it, telling what you’re gonna do differently, is the trigger to some of the most enriching conversations
[00:33:12] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: you
[00:33:12] Daniel Pink: can have.
[00:33:12] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: You have almost a, if I can say it this way, almost a missionary approach to this, which I think is terrific. When you started writing the book or started doing your research, did you think that you’d end up kind of advocating for people really to step up here?
[00:33:29] Daniel Pink: No, I start from a position of curiosity. It’s like, wow, this is interesting. I need to figure this out. This is a really weird emotion. I don’t think we’ve gotten it right. It’s an emotion that I’m experiencing. And nothing that I’ve looked at has really clarified it for me. And let me try to figure it out. That was absolutely the impetus. And then as I got further into it, I’m thinking, whoa, holy smokes. We have totally gotten this wrong. And we’re actually doing ourselves and our society a disservice by continuing to demonize regret. And we’re doing people a huge disservice by not equipping them with the very, very simple mechanisms for processing their regrets and drawing lessons from them that they can apply in the future.
[00:34:12] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Dan, the last line of the book is, “regret makes me. Human regret makes me better. Regret gives me hope”. If you wrote the book today, would you have the same last line of the book?
[00:34:23] Daniel Pink: I think so because again, what the science tells us and what all my interviews told me is that everybody has regrets. Regret makes us human. The evidence tells us very clearly that regret makes us better. And I have a lot of people, stories of people, in the book who, when they leaned into their regrets, they were able to improve their lives. What gives me hope actually Gary, goes to one of your earlier questions, which is the universality of these regrets. And that gives me hope in the sense that we’re so keyed up on differences, we’re so keyed up on where we disagree, we’re so keyed up on why this country is different from that country, and this political party is different from that political party,and this gender identity is different from that gender identity when, what I’ve found is that there’s incredible commonality. We’re all seeking the same thing, man. And these regrets tell us that. Foundational regrets say we want some stability. We don’t want to lead a precarious life. Boldness regrets say we don’t want to waste our life. We want to do something during the vanishingly short amount of time that we’re here. Moral regrets say that most of us, almost everybody, wants to be good and that we’re moral animals. Connection regrets say that we care about love. That’s what gives me hope, is that there’s so much shared humanity out there, that it seems that should be sufficient to bridge some of these chasm like gaps that have emerged across countries, across politics, across culture.
[00:35:42] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Well said. Dan, this has been a terrific interview as expected. One last question, which is, with your perspective, I’m sure that you have a number of young people coming up to you saying, hey, I’m thinking about being an author and so on. What advice would you…
[00:36:01] Daniel Pink: Get out of the business. Wake up. No. I never set out and said, I want you to become an author. All right. I don’t think that’s the way you do it. I think what you do is you say, I have something I desperately want to write. I have something I desperately need to say. I have something I desperately need to figure out. And you go with that impulse. And then if you do that like once or twice, then you in some ways become an author. But I would look for the impetus to do something rather than to be this thing called an author because the truth of the matter is is that any idiot can become an author. I mean, we see that all the time. It’s not that hard. It really isn’t. But writing a good book, writing a good article, writing a good story, writing a good anything is really, really hard work. And so if you’re committed to saying something fresh and original and useful and compelling, and you’re willing to work your butt off to do that, and in fact, if you feel in some ways compelled to do it, you can’t imagine not doing it, then, someone talks to me that way, I’m like, you go for it, man. You’re going to endure the pain and discomfort that comes from this incredibly, incredibly arduous, often very lonely, often day-to-day unsatisfying life.
[00:37:20] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Very similar to entrepreneurs, feel compelled to do it, and they just don’t have an option.
[00:37:26] Daniel Pink: Right. Gary, I think that’s a good point because, also, entrepreneurs, after a certain point, they realize that it isn’t like the process of creating a company, putting a great product or service on the market isn’t this kind of slow, upward climb. It’s back and forth, up and down, setbacks, flops. Oh my God. That’s not going to work. I can’t believe it. Moments where you wake up at night saying, what the hell was I thinking even taking this on? So I think there’s a lot of commonality and I think what compels that is that both entrepreneurship and writing books are a creative act in the sense that you are giving the world something it didn’t know it was missing. And it is actually a very pro-social act because, in all of your hubris, you’re saying people will be better off if I just get this out there, my product, my service, my experience, or my book.
[00:38:24] Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Well, “The Power of Regret”. People are better off for this book, Dan. My advice is buy it because it’s, one, enjoyable, but, two, just a hell of a learning opportunity. So thank you, sir, for being with us.
[00:38:37] Daniel Pink: What a pleasure. Thanks for having me, Gary.