Daniel Pink – Shift Your Perspective

Daniel Pink uses three simple instructions to demonstrate that perspective-taking is linked to power.


I’m going to give you three very simple instructions. Instruction number one, identify your dominant hand. Instruction number two, with your dominant hand, snap your fingers five times very quickly. Awesome. Instruction number three, with the forefinger of your dominant hand, the pointer finger of your dominant hand, on your forehead, draw for me, a capital E. Excellent. This is an experimental technique that social psychologists have used since the early 1980’s to measure what’s called Perspective Taking. The ability to get out of your own head and see things from someone else’s point of view. Snap your fingers five times quickly. What’s that instruction about?

Nothing. It’s just a distraction. Finally, you get to the part that the researchers really are looking for which is this. There are two different ways to draw the E, alright. I can draw it like this, so you can see it, your perspective. Or I can draw it like this, so I can see it, my perspective. Put people into an experimental setting. Control for handedness. Make them snap their fingers. Ask them to draw an E. What do they do? Do they take their own perspective? Or do they take someone else’s perspective? If you drew the E from your own perspective, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person because what really matters here, is context.

In general, the more powerful people feel, the more their perspective taking abilities degrade. All of you are about to become more powerful. Some of you will begin drawing the E differently than you drew it today. If you gradually loose the ability to see the world through another’s eyes, all the experience and expertise you’ve accumulated will melt into a puddle of unrealized potential. But if you work to balance power and perspective taking, you’ll become a more effective leader because you’ll offer reasons beyond I said so for what anybody should follow you.

You will avoid what could be the biggest mistake that bosses, teachers, executives, government officials, and anyone else in a position of power can make. The mistake is this, thinking you’re the smartest person in the room. If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’ve just proved that you’re not. Believing that you’re the smartest person in the room, trust me on this, never ends well. Remember the lesson of the E. Argue like you’re right, but listen like you’re wrong. Use your power but sharpen your perspective taking.