For about a year now, I have seen Dan Pink post on social media about his survey of people’s regrets and how it can be healthy to embrace them. Finally, I decided to read about what he had to say when I saw some interview links toward the end of the December.
The interview with him on the Behavioral Scientist webpage was pretty interesting just in terms of how quickly people responded and how eager to talk about their regrets people were. They initially received 15,000 responses from 100 countries and are now close to 23,000 from 109 countries. Of those initial responses, 32% provided their email addresses and opted in to be contacted for further conversation.
Something he mentions is that younger respondents pretty much equally regretted things they had done and things they hadn’t done, but as people got older they were more likely to regret things they hadn’t done.
While it is mentioned in the Behavioral Scientist article, a separate piece on the Inc website focused on Pink’s #1 lesson to reduce regret – “Always reach out.” Essentially, if you are wonder if you should reconnect with a friend you lost touch with or a family member with whom you may be estranged, Pink says the answer is yes.
A team led by University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business marketing professor Peggy Liu conducted a series of 13 experiments with nearly 6,000 participants all designed to gauge why people don’t reach out to friends or acquaintances and what happens when they do.
The study design may have been complicated but the results were straightforward, according to a writeup of the findings in the New York Times: “Across all 13 experiments, those who initiated contact significantly underestimated how much it would be appreciated. The more surprising check-ins (from those who hadn’t been in contact recently) tended to be especially powerful.”
As I read this, it struck me that arts organizations can use people’s willingness to discuss their regrets as the basis to create experiences for their communities. Maybe it is a storytelling topic. Perhaps it is a pop-up exhibit of artifacts from your regrets similar to the one Nina Simon discusses hosting for failed relationships in a TED Talk. Or perhaps it is the driver of a dialogue between generations similar to many of the recordings made for the Story Corps project.