You might be surprised to learn that regret can sharpen leaders’ decisions, speed learning and development, and boost individual and team performance. In his talk at The Global Leadership Summit: Special Edition on February 24, 2022, Daniel Pink drew on an unprecedented two-year study of regret—one of the most misunderstood emotions. In this talk, he explored the four core regrets that people around the world share—and how addressing them can form the cornerstone of a vibrant organizational culture.
Enjoy these official notes from Daniel Pink’s session on The Power of Regret.
Turning the Page
- After the last two years, we are about to reboot. We are about to get a fresh start.
- We are all facing a question right now: How can we build cultures in which people can do their best work and be their best selves?
- It starts with an emotion: regret.
What is Regret?
- Regret is the stomach-churning feeling that the present would be better and the future brighter if only you hadn’t chosen so poorly, decided so wrongly, or acted so stupidly in the past.
- Regret is our most transformative emotion if we deal with it properly.
- Regret makes us human.
- Regret is ubiquitous.
- Regret, done right, makes us better.
- Collected 18,000 regrets from people in 109 countries.
- Around the world, people express the same four regrets over and over again.
- Beneath the surface, there is a hidden architecture that transcends national boundaries.
4 Types of Regrets
1. Foundation Regrets
- They are small decisions we make early in our life that compound to make bigger issues later in life. “I regret not saving money earlier in life…”
- Hemingway character: How did you go bankrupt? Gradually and suddenly.
“If only I’d done the work.”
2. Boldness Regrets
- “If only I’d taken the chance.”
- This is especially true in the realm of work.
3. Moral Regrets
- You’re at a juncture. You can do the right thing or the wrong thing. People do the wrong thing, and almost all of us regret it.
- There’s lots of regret bullying. “If only I had done the right thing.”
4. Connection Regrets
- Connection regrets are about our relationships, not just our romantic relationships, the full suite of relationships we have (family, friends, colleagues).
- How do they come apart? They drift apart. “If only I had reached out.”
A Photographic Negative of the Good Life
- Those 18,000 people were operating as a photographic negative of the good life.
- If they tell you what they regret the most, they tell you what they value the most.
- Humans need stability, growth, goodness, and love.
4 Core Regrets—What they sound like, and what the human need reveals.
- Foundation: If only I’d done the work. Stability.
- Boldness: If only I’d taken the chance. Growth.
- Moral: If only I’d done the right thing. Goodness.
- Connection: If only I’d reached out. Love.
Lessons For Leaders
- Foundation: Fair pay, predictability.
- Boldness: The psychological safety to learn, grow, explore, and speak up.
- Moral: Honesty, transparency, and purpose.
- Connection: Belonging, and genuine friendship.
People want to work for places that are good—places that are good are going to win the war for talent.
Simple Practices to Enlist Regret as a Tool to Get Better
Write a failure resume for yourself.
- Write your failures in one column.
- Write the lesson you learned in the second column.
- Write what you’re going to do about it in the third column.
Form a regret circle with your team.
- Person one shares their regret and the lesson they learned.
- The others share advice on how to deal with it.
Conduct a regret pre-mortem on your next big project.
- Envision that the project fails. What did we do wrong?
- Go back to the present and do not do those things.
Create an island for boldness.
- Carve out time and space for people to be utterly, unequivocally bold.
Place a phone call to yourself in 2032.
- Call your future you. The you of 10 years from now is not going to care about a blue car, gray car, or what you’re having for dinner. They will care whether you built a stable foundation for family.
- What would you tell your best friend to do?
- Ask yourself, did I risk or act boldly? Did I act in love?