Meet Daniel Pink, NY Times best selling author

Meet Daniel Pink, NY Times best selling author

Regret is a “peculiar emotion,” says Daniel Pink. “People regret inaction more than they regret taking action.”

What’s more, regret is universal — and healthy. But it’s in need of a rebrand. 

In his new book, “The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward,” Dan turns the conventional wisdom about regret into a positive force for change — and offers crucial lessons for leaders who strive for authenticity and gravitas. 

For those of us in the automotive industry, his analysis is especially apt. We can't afford to miss the opportunities we have in this moment of massive industry disruption. We should not look back and see the decisions we make as inadequate or obsolete. 

Dan's book includes insights from the last 50 years of social psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and developmental psychology, as well as his own groundbreaking research. His findings help us better understand what we as leaders can do to help our teams reach their full potential. (Spoiler alert: It's not about "command and control" or staying in our comfort zones.)

Host Jan Griffiths welcomes Dan to discuss how regret can be a catalyst for change, particularly for automotive leaders. 

Other themes discussed on this episode: 

  • Why "doing the right thing" might just mean disrupting our fossil fuel-driven industry
  • How to choose comfort over discomfort
  • Making the choice to go back to the office (or not)
  • What a traditional Japanese method of mending pottery can teach us about improving workplace culture  

Featured Guest: Daniel Pink

What he does: Dan is the author of seven books, five of which are New York Times bestsellers. His latest is “The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward”. Prior to his publishing career, Dan worked in various roles in politics and government, including as the chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore.

On Gravitas: “It’s a mix of authenticity, credibility, and vision — all those three things combined. Authenticity, because the person is being true to herself. Credibility means that other people look at the person and can trust that person — trust not only their morality and what they say, but also trust their competence. And then vision. You can be an authentic person who has credibility and technical skill, and if you have no vision, you don't go anywhere.” 

Episode Highlights

Timestamped inflection points from the show

[3:57] Who is Daniel Pink? Dan describes himself as a citizen, a father, a husband, and a writer — whose “story is unfinished.”

[7:06] Age of reason: One of the few demographic differences Dan uncovered is that younger folks tend to split their regrets somewhat equally between action and inaction. But as we age, “inaction regrets take over, almost by about two-to-one margin,” he notes.

[11:56] Cultural mosaic: The four categories of regret can give us clues about what makes a coherent corporate culture, says Dan. Fair pay and physical safety are basic values that mirror foundational regrets. Psychological safety is necessary for people to feel comfortable speaking up and taking chances, thus preventing “boldness regret.” The other two are more self-evident: Doing the right (moral) thing and a sense of belonging or affinity with one another that leads to connection. 

[12:40] Fueling the future: Dan thinks "doing the right thing" in the auto industry might mean evolving from the internal combustion engine to "cleaner" vehicles.

[13:10] Wisdom from Intel: Former Intel CEO Andy Grove once said that when he had to face a tough decision, he’d ask himself: What would my successor do? That question is a great tool for leaders, says Dan. “Would your successor say, Wait a second: We’re at the brink of this seismic change. I’m going to slow things down […] I’m going to try to restrict progress? No, I don’t think your successor would do that.”

[13:39] Inside story: Dan says another powerful question to ask is: What story do you want to tell yourself in 10 years? It’s like making a phone call to Future You. Chances are, in 2032 you’ll either applaud yourself for being at the forefront of positive transformations in the automotive industry or regret being an impediment to them.

[17:17] Office space: Does post-pandemic life mean going back to the office? Maybe not all the time. Dan thinks we “have to give people a reason and have some kind of logic behind it.” Companies that required their teams to return to in-person work in the fall got a rude awakening: “They would say, Okay, everybody, if you want to be committed, you’ve got to be back in the office. And everybody under 40 was like, Okay, whatever. I’ll find a new job, dude.”

[10:44] Failure is a (valid) option: Most people don’t regret their failures as much as they regret not trying at all. He saw thousands of people who said, I started a business that totally flopped, but I’m okay with that. Because at least I gave it a try. For every one person who regretted a failure, “there were 40 or 50 who had the opposite kind of regret.”

[15:01] More than it seams: Kintsugi is the art of mending pottery with precious metals. “The goal was not to pretend those cracks didn’t exist, but to put gold in the seams of those cracks so that it had a different appearance and became more beautiful — because of the cracks, not in spite of the cracks,” Dan explains. “I think that’s an interesting metaphor for regret, that all of us have these cracks in our life, but they can be a source of beauty. They should not be a source of shame.” 

[24:58] On Gravitas: Dan chooses three of Jan's 21 traits of authentic leadership and explains why authenticity, credibility, and vision are at the root of gravitas.

Top quotes

[4:39] Jan: I do not want leaders in this industry to have any regrets. 

Dan: Well, I think that's a good aspiration. I think the other aspiration should be to help executives in your industry, or any industry, learn from their regrets rather than slide past them.

[8:19] Dan: “Regrets are almost always regrets of inaction: If only I had traveled more. If only I had asked him out on a date. If only I had started that business. Even connection regrets are often regrets about inaction. Moral regrets are often regrets about action. So it is an interesting distinction in the architecture of regret that tells us a lot about what makes human beings tick and what makes life worth living.”

[11:16] Jan: It takes guts, obviously, to make a decision; it takes a belief and a commitment in yourself to make that kind of a change. And when I look at the leaders out there right now in automotive, I know that they know that the world is changing. There's massive disruption in this industry. And they're gonna need to break the mold of command and control.

Dan: Absolutely. 

[11:56] Dan: "These four regrets give us some clues about what makes a coherent corporate culture. What do you want as a leader? What kind of culture do you want [?] … If you want a culture with some degree of stability (that's what these foundation regrets are about), which are fair pay, physical safety … in the automotive manufacturing process. So people don't feel precarious. But bonus regrets — not only do you want to be able to take chances, but you want to create conditions of psychological safety that allow your team to take chances if we are in this period of incredible disruption. And obviously we … can't do it alone. You need people on your team to speak up and [for] people on your team to take chances, you've got to offer some psychological safety. You've got to do the right thing." 

[12:40] Dan: "A lot of this disruption is ultimately about, in some ways, doing the right thing — particularly when it comes to the conversion from the internal combustion engine, which is burning fossil fuel, to vehicles that are cleaner."

[16:27] Dan: “For a long time, an office was a place that had the equipment and the people […] the tools you needed to create wealth. And you certainly couldn’t afford them on your own. That’s no longer true. Being in the office was the only way to talk to the people you were working with. That’s no longer true. So what’s an office for?” 

[18:46] Dan: “I don’t know whether there are nefarious motives behind welcoming people back, encouraging, urging people back to the office. I just think it’s a retreat to the comfortable, a retreat to the known. People generally don’t like uncertainty. And so the idea is like, Wait a second, this is going to be like this forever? I don’t like that. Let’s just make it the way it used to be. That’s a pretty common human instinct. It’s generally a dangerous instinct, but it’s pretty common.”

[24:28] Dan: “When you say no regrets, I don’t have any regrets, I never look backward — that is an act of an abject lack of self-awareness.”

Mentioned in this episode:

Learn more about creating your own internal company podcast