Q & A with Krishna Pendyala, Founder and CEO of ChoiceLadder Institute

Over the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Krishna Pendyala a couple of times. What I noticed about Krishna almost immediately was his passion and depth of knowledge. He spent more than two decades coaching and consulting with high net worth families and has worked with teams at Boeing, Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh Steelers, UNESCO and UBS. Through his company, ChoiceLadder Institute, Krishna is now on another mission: to teach people how to illuminate their blind spots and put the power to choose back in their own hands. His values-based choice framework enables people to make confident decisions from whom to marry to how to distribute their assets to their heirs and all the tiny choices in between that lead us down the path of success or failure.

This interview is about how to design a legacy one choice at a time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

-Laura Roser

L: How did you get into the kind of work you do? 

K: Having made a bunch of mistakes in my life, I was motivated to share them as widely as possible in the hope that people could avoid the suffering that came as a result of my choices. Getting a fifth lease on life is unusual, unless you are a cat. I have been blessed with this major gift, so I take this opportunity very seriously and feel that it is my moral obligation and duty to share from my personal experiences so that others could benefit from them. From this source comes a level of genuine empathy and compassion for others and their lives.

Additionally, having watched the lives of over onehundred ultra high net-worth families for almost a decade and realizing that only a handful of them were fulfilled and flourishing, made me want to dig deeper and get to the root cause of the issue. True success, I soon realized can only be measured in terms of your quality of life, not merely in terms of your standard of living.

Coming up with simple, friendly, memorable and easy to adopt approaches became the driving force behind my work and even the title of my book ‘Beyond the PIG and the APE: Realizing Success and true Happiness’ will demonstrate that.

L: What do you believe is the best method to build one’s character and create a legacy of excellence?

K: In cultures that believe winning is everything, it is imperative that we establish the discipline of making choices that enable us to perform at high levels without compromising our values. One’s character gets tested when the going gets tough, especially when anxiety and stress in our lives is on the rise.

The best way to build one’s character is to work on establishing written values and making choices in accordance with those values. One easy exercise to undertake is to write your biography as though you are going to get introduced as the guest of honor at an event. Having done that, you can flip the paper over and write your own eulogy that would be read at your funeral. I find this exercise to be the quickest and most reliable way to uncover your values.

In fact, the visual mark for my ChoiceLadder Institute was designed to communicate a values-based approach to choice-making.  The green check mark represents those choices that you make that are aligned with your defined values and the orange inverted check mark creates an ‘X’ and represents those choices that are out of alignment with your values.  Together, they also create an ‘alpha’ which is a state of mind where you can choose to be consciously effective or simply operate In the AlphaZone.

Once you have outlined your values, I suggest that you Live Two Days at a Time—a philosophy which states, “Do whatever you want today as long it does not jeopardize your tomorrow.” At the end of each day, please take the time to reflect and ask yourself the following two questions:

1) What did I learn from my experiences today?

2) What can I do tomorrow that would help me and others tomorrow?

Since life is a series of todays and tomorrows, this philosophy helps in generating insights that will help you and those around you flourish.

L: In our last issue, we addressed the concern of replicating undesirable family patterns. How does someone proactively change their family’s legacy or break away from harmful patterns that may be difficult to recognize or ingrained so deeply that they may not see how they are self-sabotaging?

K: As human beings, we tend to take short cuts to simplify our lives. The majority of the decisions that we make take only a few minutes or even a few seconds and are likely to be dominated by automatic, heuristic thinking. Such patterns of behavior are prone to unconscious biases. Overcoming these biases is the key to sound judgment and making healthy choices. Learning the basics of these biases starts with increasing your awareness about the ABCDs of judgment. These hidden influences can be organized into the categories of Assumptions, Beliefs, Conditioning, and Drives.

Taking the time to reflect on your usual pattern of reactions to situations using the ABCDs of Judgment will illuminate the many blind spots and putting the power to choose back in your hands.

Learn the ABCDs of Judgment


It is commonly accepted that our lives are a product of our choices. Consider the famous Will Rogers quote: “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” In today’s world –where we are hyper-competitive, over-worked, and super busy– can we afford to rely solely on this old school of experience-based learning? If life is a product of your choices, shouldn’t you be investing time and effort to learn the basics of how to make those choices to the best of your ability? Most people incorrectly believe or simply accept that judgment skills are not teachable, and that only experience will improve your judgment.

Exercising good judgment is the foundation for a successful and fulfilled life. Gaining insights about our unconscious biases, our social conditioning and our hidden drives can greatly enhance our Judgment Quotient™ and guide us to make better choices and improve our overall quality of life.

L: Why do you say that small choices are just as important as the big ones? 

K: People seem to pay more attention when it comes to decision-making about the big, highly salient decisions. What they don’t realize is that it’s really their day-to-day small choices that cause the problem. Sure, pick the right person to marry. But marital happiness depends on daily choices. Sure, pick a good place to live. But again, it’s the daily tactical decisions that they make while living there that determine whether they are happy or not. Sure, pick a good career. But again, it’s the daily choices that they make that determine whether they are happy with their current job situation. Within all of these contexts, they can make the one big decision that gets them moving down a path. But the devil is in the daily choices once they start that journey.

While we pay more attention and often are consumed by major, consequential decisions, we should not overlook the daily choices that play an integral part in our overall success in life. We need to focus more on the day-to-day small choices and be keenly observant to the unconscious patterns of actions and behavior that tend to hijack our lives.

L: How do we make changes once we are in the habit of making poor choices? Especially, if we’re trying to encourage change in our own families. 

K: It’s always about keeping your focus on the bigger picture. So, for example, if you want to understand the impact of alcohol on the heart, you can take twenty people and put some monitors on their hearts and give them alcohol and see what happens. But it would be incomplete if you didn’t acknowledge the role of the liver in this process because those twenty people may have twenty different liver functions and the correlation between alcohol and the heart may be affected by what the liver does.

Many times when we make statements, we don’t consider the role of other players. When you want to change behavior, there are three elements you need to focus on: 1) the request for action, 2) their behavior, and 3) the reward or consequence. What I’ve found is that in most behavioral change situations, we don’t use all three elements. We only request the action and then when they don’t do it, we repeat the request for action at a higher volume. How well do you think this works? Not very well.

Here’s an example of what this should look like: Let’s say you work for a company and your boss requests that you do an extra report for the firm. When you jump on it and get it done in time, she says, “Since you hate doing the books, how about we get someone to do the books for you next month.” That’s also a reward. It’s a gift to take away something you don’t like. Rewards are critical to behavior change.

Then comes punishment and penalty, which, unfortunately is what most people try to use. So, punishment is giving them what they don’t like and penalty is taking away something they like, which is the worst. That’s why fines don’t work very well. If fines were working well, we wouldn’t have speeding issues. Many parents employ these tactics. They say, “If you don’t do something, I’m taking the money away.” This is not effective at all. That usually builds resentment.

On the other hand, if they say, “I really want you to enjoy this money forever. So, let’s get together and we can figure out what would make me feel comfortable to give this to you. I want to make sure that you can take care of it and even give it to your kids. Are you willing to sit with me and go through a couple ideas?” And as you do that, if you keep rewarding them with positive consequences, it becomes a virtuous cycle rather than a vicious cycle. A virtuous cycle is one that builds on the actions you take and a vicious cycle are the choices that dig your hole deeper. Everybody has a choice, at any moment, to either move the cycle upward or downward.

Most people don’t realize the power they wield at any moment which comes from stepping back, increasing the awareness of the bigger picture, and taking into account all the variables they are dealing with. Too often human beings want to make a simple A to B relationship – you do more of A, you get more of B. But life is not just A’s and B’s. There are so many more letters in the alphabet, so to speak. Understanding the relationships between the various elements is key.


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Krishna Pendyala is the founder and chief empowerment officer at the ChoiceLadder Institute, a social enterprise with a ‘pay it forward’ mission to enhance the skills of human judgment and choice-making. He is also the president of the Mindful Nation Foundation, a brainchild of Congressman Tim Ryan, whose vision is to help people overcome stress and lead more fulfilling lives. His has been featured on TEDx, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Huffington Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Inc. magazine among others. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed book Beyond the PIG and the APE: Realizing Success and true Happiness. www.choiceladder.com