In the course of writing eight books over the past 20 years, Daniel Pink has researched everything from human motivation to the science of perfect timing. For his latest book, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward, he surveyed more than 16,000 people about their personal regrets.
What surfaced were four main categories of regrets: regret over failure to be responsible (for health, finances, or education, primarily), failure to be bold (say, chances not taken), moral regrets, and relationship or connection regrets. When looked at together, all these regrets form what Pink described to Inc.'s What I Know podcast as "a photographic negative of the good life."
The types of regrets he identified paint a picture of what humans desire: stability and the ability to take chances and pursue passions, develop strong relationships, and be morally good. They're also consequential in the workplace.
"I think there's a massive business lesson here. Those are the making of a strong corporate culture," Pink says. "If we want this out of life, these four things, why would we not want them out of the part of our life at which we're spending half of our waking hours?"
Pink says the desire for stability is the most clear-cut of the four. "People want jobs and to work for organizations that give them at least some kind of stability. So it's not precarious, it's not unpredictable," he says. But boldness, too, needs to be allowed for. Survey respondents told Pink they wish they'd taken more career risks, had spoken up for what they believed in, or had behaved more entrepreneurially at work.
When it comes to moral regrets, Pink suggests that the link to corporate culture is related to connection and sense of purpose: "People want to work for companies and organizations that do the right thing. And also, people want a sense of belonging at work and affinity to their colleagues."
He admits that linking the concept of regret to company culture is unorthodox. "Regret, in a weird way, gives you a pathway to what makes a strong culture. It's an unexpected pathway there; it's not one that I expected to find," he says. "But I think it's pretty clear."