TEDx University of Navarra: The Discipline of Finishing

I had an opportunity to give a talk at TEDx University of Navarra in April this year.  The talk has just made its way up to YouTube.

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If you had 1000€ and you could invest that money in someone’s future, who would you bet on? Is it yourself?

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Thanks to Sara Navarro Cuesta for being the first to share: Thanks to IESE Business School for a widely-read tweet

Transcript

Who would you bet on?

Imagine you had the two hundred people you know best in the world sat in this room and i gave you this deal:

you come, today, come up here to me, you give me a thousand euros and you give me a name, and for the rest of that person’s life I will pay you ten percent of everything they make, every month, month after month, month after month.

Ten percent.

Who would you choose?

Imagine that. Here in the room, if you look around the faces you see in this room -some good faces to bet on in this room- but if you put the two hundred people you know best from school, from university, through family connections,… Who of all the people you know, will be the one person that you would put on my paper and bring to me? Who would you bet on? I was asked this question seven years ago. The man in the picture is Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett, at times the richest man in the world.

Warren Buffett doesn’t invent things;

Warren Buffett doesn’t sell things;

Warren Buffett doesn’t manage a company.

Warren Buffet takes one decision every day:

Would I bet on this person?

And the results would seem that he does this quite well. But seven years ago when he asked this question to a hundred and fifty MBAs. In my mind, three or four faces came to my mind…

Three or four faces…

And I hope as you’re thinking about this now

-Who would you bet on?- Some faces come to your mind. Some faces come to mind. People you know,

if you have this bet to make you choose them.

So let’s work a little bit on this.

If we’re gonna do this properly which we put together a process.

The question:

What criteria will you use in making this decision?

What criteria is your mind already using when it puts up a couple of faces in your mind’s eye?

What are you looking for when you see in someone the capacity have a massive impact in the world? I’m assuming you wanna do this bet well, because you do it well you can use that money for a lot of good causes.

What criteria would you use?

One idea -let’s go through some ideas- one idea: let’s get the two hundred people present in the room to bring their grades from school and university and we put them in order from the best to the worst grade and we choose number one.

Good idea?

The really scary thing is if I asked a group of twelve-year-olds they would laugh at the idea. Twelve-year-old already see the grades in school is not the criteria.

What are the criteria we’re using?

What about best friends? Patxi, I’ll choose you if you choose me! Best friends! Wonderful for friendship but a very dumb-way to take this decision.

What criteria would you use?

What criteria is your mind already using when it starts to put some ideas in your mind?

Who would you bet on?

So if grades from school isn’t it; best friends isn’t it; What would you use?

Now Warren Buffett takes this decision everyday, and Warren Buffett has three criteria.

But before I get into these three criteria of Warren Buffett

I wanna move to the world of psychology -I studied psychology- and to this day, from the beginning of psychology, there’s one test that above any other tests in life predicts future success on every measure: wealth, quality of relationships, grades in school, length of relationships, happiness, measured on every scale wether qualitated or quantitated

And the test is called the Marshmallow Test.

This here is a marshmallow.

The marshmallow test can be conducted on children three or four years old: the psychologist brings the child into the room and says “this is yours, this is yours to eat. I need to leave the room for a couple of minutes, when I come back if it’s still there you get two”.

And the psychologist leaves the room.

And the kid looks at the marshmallow: its his marshmallow! you can use it in any way you want.

So fifty percent eat the marshmallow; fifty percent don’t eat the marshmallow.

And the fifty percent that don’t eat the marshmallow go on to live lives that are qualitative and quantitatively better than the kids that do eat the marshmallow.

But you can go and look at this on Youtube.

You can go and see this experiment being carried out. And what is most illustrative is what the children do that don’t eat the marshmallow.

The kids that eat the marshmallow do something similar:

they stare at the marshmallow, they look at it.

The kids that don’t eat the marshmallow -can you imagine three-year-olds, four-year-olds? it’s kind of obvious- the kids that don’t eat the marshmallow: they put their head on their hands, they get up and stare at the wall, they look at their shoes.

Because at the age of three they’ve already realized how little power they have over themselves, over their own nature.

The lesson:

the diet fails in the supermarket, not at home. If I go to the supermarket and I buy chocolate, and that chocolate gets to my house, my willpower might get me through one day, it might be getting through the end of the week, it might get me to the end of the month, I might last a year…

But one day something bad will happen: I’ll come home tired my willpower will not be there and I will eat that chocolate.

The marshmallow test: the most powerful tool, on three or four-year-old children, to determine the quality of their lives the rest of their life.

Now, marshmallows don’t work on grown adults, so I wouldn’t recommend we use the marshmallow test to make your decision of who’d you bet on.

Let’s go back to Warren Buffett and his three criteria:

the three criteria of Warren Buffett.

And Warren Buffett makes this decision pretty damn well: sixty billion dollars of Net worth through deciding “would I bet on this person or not?”. And if you look at the structure of a lot of his deals he takes ten percent of all the future income of this person, of this team, of this company, on these three criteria.

The second criteria of Warren Buffett:

Energy.

Energy is health and a bias to action:

healthy people, people who don’t get ill often, people when they get a cold there back to work tomorrow cuz they recover quick, they sleep well.

Bias to action: people have a tendency to take action over thinking about action.

Energy is about vitality and a bias to action.

The third criteria of Warren Buffett:

Intelligence.

But not chess intelligence, not business school intelligence, not sitting in a room for four years designing a strategy intelligence.

He’s talking about adaptive intelligence: when you’re running down the street and a lamp post is coming towards you, adaptive intelligence is the intelligence to see the pattern, see the lamp post coming and change your course just enough but instead of taking it in the forehead you take the blow on the shoulder and you keep moving.

So number two: energy.

Number three: intelligence.

But without number one Warren Buffett and I would rather you were dumb and lazy.

Without number one you’ll be a danger to yourself.

Without number one you’ll be danger to your family and to society.

Number one, Warren Buffett’s number one criteria…

Number two is energy. Number three, intelligence. But without this those two are dangerous.

Number one is integrity.

But integrity is that you say no to most things.

Integrity is really about an alignment between what your calendar says you do and what you say you. And if you say yes to most requests, if you can’t think of the time you said no in the last day, in the last week, your life has been divided into thousands of little pieces and spread amongst the priorities of other people.

So to live an integral life, to live a life true to your own values means that you say no very often.

Integrity, energy and intelligence.

Do they seem like good criteria?

Do they seem like good criteria?

They worked for Warren Buffett… They seem like good criteria?

Did you use these criteria in taking this decision? in choosing the one person to own ten percent of all their future income?

These three seem like good criteria for me, I use them, I often use them.

They seem like good criteria. Now, there’s a person in this room that without paying me a thousand Euros, without doing anything different, without raising your hand, without moving, you owe more than ten percent: you own one hundred percent.

The person in this room that you don’t have to pay money, you don’t have to go to me, you don’t have to speak to anyone, and you will own one hundred percent of everything, month after month, after month.

So I very much hope that you each day work very hard to maximize integrity, maximize energy maximize intelligence.

Because if you bet on someone else for ten percent, I damn well hope, you put everything you can into maximizing these three in your own life.

And given that we got a few minutes, How about some tools?

I’ll leave you with some tools: one tool to maximize your intelligence, one tool to maximize your energy, one tool to maximize your integrity. And you can put these into action right now.

Intelligence: write stuff down.

If you write down ideas you’ve had today, if you write down people you’ve met, describe things that are going on, six months from now you won’t be the intelligence of one moment: you’ll be the accumulated intelligence of six months of ideas, six months of things written down, six months of people’s quotes.

When I was fourteen years old my biology teacher made us write down five minutes everyday, whatever we wanted. I remember day one. Pen touched paper: “This is stupid, What are we doing?”

Day two, again: “This is stupid. What are we doing?” Day three: “He’s still doing this!”

Day four: “Strange thing happened to me on the way to school today…”.

Day five: “My brother said something to me this morning…”.

I’ve written everyday of my life since I was fourteen years old. I know where I was every day of my life since I was fourteen: I know what I was thinking, I know what I felt like, I know who I was with.

Start writing down your life, it’s the most valuable resource you have: your own life. But so few people take the time to document it. Write your life down, describe the marshmallow.

Energy: high-performance athletes. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last five years interviewing the high-performance athletes of Spain: Josef Ajram, Kilian Jornet, Miquel Suñer.

Josef Ajram: ten times he’s competed in the Marathon des Sables. Two marathons a day, six days across the Sahara.

And Josef tells me: he finishes because he never thinks about more than fifteen minutes ahead. He runs for fifteen minutes he stops, has a drink, another fifteen minutes, another fifteen minutes, his mind never goes beyond fifteen minutes.

He says “anybody can run for fifteen minutes”.

He’s run the Marathon des Sables because he’s never, ever, let his mind see more than the next fifteen minutes.

Miquel Suñer swims open water, without a wetsuit, across the english channel. No wetsuit! Forty two thousand strokes to leave the english coast over to france.

Fourteen, fifteen-degree water; the cold seeping in with every stroke. How does he do it?

Because his mind is never further than stroke, stroke, breath; stroke, stroke, breath. Hour after hour, swimming, but he’s never allowing is mind to go anywhere beyond: stroke, stroke, breath.

With the marshmallow: deal with one marshmallow at a time, one marshmallow at a time.

What’s the next step? Do not let your mind jump forward and see the biggest thing. Alpine climbers see the next inch.

Ranulf Fiennes, oldest man from europe to climb Everest: failed three times; on his last attempt his wife said “Ranulf, climb it like the horses”.

He looked at her: “What you mean like the horses?”.

She’s an animal trainer: “A horse has no concept of the finish, a horse runs until it collapses. Climb everest one step at a time. Ask yourself one question: “can I take one more step?” “Yes!” take it. “No!” pause. “Yes!” take it, “Yes!” take it.

And on one of those steps he stood on the summit.

Energy: deal with next unit, one marshmallow at a time, one marshmallow at a time.

Integrity: Do you know how a child spells love?

How does a child spell love?

T-I-M-E

This world is full of good intention… But, the way you see if an executive really is behind an initiative you open their diary and you count the hours.

If you say your parents are important to you, open the diary and show me the hours.

The coherence between a diary and your values is where integrity begins.

And it’s kind of horrific when you start to count, when you start to look and start to become aware of where your time goes… So little of my time really goes to the things that I know and I mean to do. So often I slip off into facebook and what was supposed to be a minute, is an hour, and then lunch comes.

But those minutes, once you start to get the minutes dedicated things that matter…

And the truly important thing to remember about the marshmallow test is that there’s hundreds, and thousands, and millions of marshmallows in your life: hundreds of little decisions, minutes after minute, day after day that all sum up.

And success in life is not one massive good decision, not one marshmallow not eaten;

and failure, is not one marshmallow eaten, or one poor decision.

Failure is repeated bad decisions;

success, is repeated, consistent, good habits.

We so underestimate what we can achieve in a year and so overestimate what we can achieve in a day. A page a day and you have a book in a year: you’ll never write a book in one day.

But this time, once you started dedicate the time right, I had the privilege is spending a day with Kilian Jornet -probably Spain’s top athlete, ultra man- when I met him he just finished running the Lake Tahoe Rim Run: 288 kilometers, 19 kilometers of vertical ascent and he run it in 36 hours.

What the hell goes through a man’s mind as he runs for 36 hours?

But when he runs, do you know what the other competitors say about Kilian?

“He looks like he’s enjoying it”.

The other runners are suffering and they’re looking down:

Killian is running touching the leaves as he runs past, smelling the smell of the forest, feeling at the end of the track beneath his feet.

He runs for thirty six hours because he’s absolutely there, his mind is nowhere else but in the run, in the path, in the forests, feeling completely alive.

But when you do get your diary too much up to your values, getting your life one hundred percent present, and experiencing every little piece,is what took Killian to be #1 in the world in the hardest sport in the world.

So the lesson, rule #1 for success -and I brought a few for all of you to see if you can achieve it- the rule for success: when you have a marshmallow don’t stare at it.

The diet doesn’t fail because of weakness of will, the diet fails because the chocolate is there.

If you want to stop watching television take the batteries out of the remote.

If you want to do more exercise, put your running shoes next to the door.

It’s small, small changes…

And when I come back five years from now, and I ask: “Who did you bet on?

the answer that I want:

Yo mismo! (Spanish for myself)

When I come back ten years from now, the answer that I want is “Yo mismo!”

And twenty years from now, I want you to have written stuff down;

I want you have dealt with one step at a time;

I want you to make sure your diary aligns completely, you say “no” to the things that don’t fit with what’s important to you.

And twenty five years when I come back here I will look out on the most successful group of people, because they’ve lives their lives fully.

Who would you bet on?

45 comments

  1. Sandeep Deshmukh · · Reply

    What a speech ! This will change my life ! I loved it ! Thanks very much . Sandeep

  2. WoW Conor! Tx a ton for all your thoughts, those always inspires me to think positive, straight and stepwise.
    I am from India and I will surely promote n share all this stuff here with all.
    Tx once again for your efforts. :)

    1. Thank you Gaurav. What part of India are you from?

  3. Wow, your delivery & words are pure poetry Conor, full of presence & integrity. So happy to have a speaking role model to model what I want to achieve.

    Values and integrity are up for me in my life right now so timely that I discovered it. Very inspiring

    1. Christine – thank you for these kind words. Keep your journey going, you’ll get there!

  4. […] TEDx University of Navarra: The Discipline of Finishing […]

  5. M.Yousef · · Reply

    Thank you for all the great advice. I hope one day to become a great person like you.

  6. Me gusta el discurso … gracias

    1. Gracias Anil ;-)

  7. […] fount this video of Conor Neill talking about hot to invest in yourself and get the results you want. He talks about 3 key […]

  8. […] question at the start, and returns to that same question at the end. (And for your convenience, Conor’s blog post even contains a transcript of his […]

  9. A highly motivational message. Is there a Spanish subtitled version to distribute to friends? Gracias!

    1. If you go to the video on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zXCiv4sc5eY) you can select Captions – Spanish and then it will show subtitles in spanish as you watch the video. I can’t see how to set up a link so that you can share and the video automatically displays captions… ;-(

  10. Panha Kol · · Reply

    I like to listen to you because I want to improve my English listening. I love this conferences very much.

    1. Great stuff Panha ;-)

  11. Truly enjoyed the speech. Thanks Conor!

    1. I am glad ;-)

  12. Andrew Zicklin · · Reply

    nice and inspiring! Thanks.

    1. Kind words Andrew ;-)

  13. Nice work, Conor!

    I really like that you give us 1 tool in each of 3 different areas, and at the end that you circle back to the start.

    Thanks for providing the transcript too – that’s a very useful courtesy for your visitors.

    1. Thank you Craig ;-)

  14. Mikel · · Reply

    Frankly, on of the best conferences I´ve ever heard!! Comaparable to those of Randy Pausch, Steve jobs, JK Rowling at Harvard !!Congratulations!!

    1. Those are big names! Thank you.

  15. devi gurung · · Reply

    Lovely speech !!!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Devi ;-)

  16. Both of your TedTalks are really good. I think I’ll have to start writing a little bit everyday, it seems to be working pretty well to you!

    1. Thanks Marc. It is a great habit.

  17. Terrific and inspiring speech, thanks Conor for sharing it through your letter.

    1. Thanks Antoni ;-)

  18. Silvia · · Reply

    Me ha encantado! Y estoy deseando poner en práctica las herramientas!
    Gracias Conor!

    1. Excelente Silvia – a por ello!

  19. Excelente !! Gracias Conor !! Realmente me ayuda muchísimo día a día leer tus post y vídeos. Gracias

    1. Gracias por decirlo Pato. Un abrazo!

  20. Awesome! Contratulations, Mr. Neill!

    Any extra marshmallows? :-)

    1. Just one spare marshmallow…

  21. It’s been a pleasure Conor to have you over at TEDxUniversidaddeNavarra.

    Thnak you so much.

    PS: you may be pleased to hear my diary just reached a month worth of experiences!

    1. Hope the diary is still going! ;-) best

  22. Great talk Conor! The integrity point really struck a chord and the idea of writing every day is exciting me as a new discipline!

    1. Running, writing… In some way these 2 disciplines clear out all the excuses… You write or not… The words are there or not there… It is under my control 100%

  23. Claire · · Reply

    A big round of applause Conor. Excellente! :D

    1. Thanks Claire

  24. Fabulous Conor!

    1. Thanks Sue. Will you be going to EO Buenos Aires?

  25. Ecatherine · · Reply

    Love the speech, Conor!! :-)

    1. Thanks. And thanks for listening through the week of practice ;-)

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