How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals: Stephen Duneier

How you define Stephen Duneier depends on how you came to know him. Some define him as an expert institutional investor, while others know him as a large scale installation artist, avid outdoorsman, professor, decision strategist, coach, business leader, mindfulness extremist, author, speaker, daredevil or Guinness world record holder.

In his talk, Stephen explains that what truly defines him aren’t titles, but an approach to decision making that transformed him from someone who struggled with simple tasks to a guy who is continuously achieving even his most ambitious dreams.

For thirty years, he has applied cognitive science to investing, business and life. The result has been the turnaround of numerous institutional businesses, career best returns for managers who have adopted his methods, the development of a $1.25 billion dollar hedge fund and a rapidly shrinking bucket list.

Mr. Duneier teaches graduate courses on Decision Analysis in UCSB’s College of Engineering. His book, AlphaBrain is due for release in early 2017 from Wiley & Sons.
Through Bija Advisors, he helps business leaders improve performance by applying proven, proprietary decision-making methods to their own processes.
His artwork has been featured around the world and is represented by the Sullivan Goss Gallery. As Commissioner of the League of Professional Educators, Duneier is using cognitive science to alter the landscape of American education. He is the former Head of Currency Option Trading at Bank of America and Emerging Markets at AIG International.

How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals | Stephen Duneier

Transcripts of the Video:

00:09
by show of hands how many of you believe
00:12
you could replicate this image of Brad
00:14
Pitt with just a pencil and piece of
00:16
paper well I’m going to show you how to
00:19
do this and in so doing I’m going to
00:22
give you the skill necessary to become a
00:25
world-class artist
00:26
and it shouldn’t take more than about 15
00:29
seconds but before I do that how many of
00:32
you believe you could replicate this
00:33
image of a solid gray square every one
00:37
of us and if you can make one gray
00:39
square you can make two three nine truth
00:43
of the matter is if you could make just
00:45
one gray square it’d be very difficult
00:47
to argue that you couldn’t make every
00:50
gray square necessary to replicate the
00:52
image in its entirety and there you have
00:55
it I’ve just given you the skill
00:57
necessary to become a world-class artist
01:00
I know what you’re thinking that’s not
01:03
real art certainly wouldn’t make me a
01:05
world-class artist so let me introduce
01:08
you to Chuck Close so in the
01:10
highest-earning artists in the entire
01:12
world for decades and he creates his art
01:15
using this exact technique you see what
01:18
stands between us and achieving even our
01:21
most ambitious dreams has far less to do
01:24
with possessing some magical skill or
01:26
talent and far more to do with how we
01:29
approach problems and make decisions to
01:31
solve them and because of the continuous
01:34
and compounding nature of all those
01:36
millions of decisions that we face on a
01:39
regular basis even a marginal
01:41
improvement in our process can have a
01:43
huge impact on our end results and I’ll
01:46
prove this to you by taking a look at
01:48
the career of Novak Djokovic back in
01:50
2004 when he first became a professional
01:53
tennis player who’s ranked six hundred
01:55
and eightieth in the world wasn’t until
01:57
the end of his third year that he jumped
01:59
up to be ranked third third in the world
02:02
he went for making 250,000 a year to 5
02:05
million a year in prize money alone and
02:08
of course he did this by winning more
02:10
matches in 2011 he became the number one
02:13
ranked men’s tennis player in the world
02:15
started earning an average of 14 million
02:17
a year in prize money alone and winning
02:20
it dominating 90% of his matches now
02:23
here’s what’s really interesting about
02:25
all of these very impressive statistics
02:27
Novak doesn’t control any of them what
02:31
he does control are all the tiny little
02:33
decisions that he needs to make
02:35
correctly along the way in order to move
02:38
the the probability in favor of him
02:40
achieving these types of results and we
02:43
can quantify and track his progress in
02:45
this area by taking a look at the
02:47
percentage of points that he wins
02:49
because in tennis the typical point
02:51
involves one two maybe three decisions I
02:54
like to refer to this as his decision
02:57
success rate so back when he was winning
02:59
about 49 percent of the point the
03:01
matches he was playing he was winning
03:04
about 49 percent of the points he played
03:06
then to jump up become number three in
03:09
the world and actually earned five
03:10
million dollars a year for swinging a
03:12
racquet he had to improve his decision
03:14
success rate to just 52 percent then to
03:18
become not just number one
03:20
but maybe one of the greatest players to
03:22
ever play the game
03:23
he had to improve his decision success
03:25
rate to just 55 percent and I keep using
03:28
this word just I don’t want to imply
03:31
this is easy to do clearly it’s not but
03:33
the type of marginal improvements that
03:35
I’m talking about are easily achievable
03:37
by every single one of us in this room
03:40
and I’ll show you what I mean from
03:43
kindergarten all the way through to my
03:46
high school graduation yes that’s high
03:48
school graduation for me every one of my
03:52
report cards basically said the same
03:53
thing Stevens a very bright young boy if
03:56
only he would just settle down and focus
03:59
what they didn’t realize was I wanted
04:02
that even more than they wanted it for
04:04
me I just couldn’t
04:06
and so from kindergarten straight
04:09
through the second year of college I was
04:11
a really consistent cc- student but then
04:15
going into my junior year I’d had enough
04:17
I thought I want to make a change I’m
04:19
gonna make a marginal adjustment and I’m
04:22
going to stop being a spectator of my
04:24
decision-making and start becoming an
04:25
active part
04:27
and so that year instead of pretending
04:30
again that I would suddenly be able to
04:33
settle down and focus on things for more
04:35
than five or ten minutes at a time I
04:37
decided to assume I wouldn’t and so if I
04:41
wanted to achieve the type of outcome
04:43
that I desired doing well in school I
04:45
was going to actually have to change my
04:47
approach and so I made a marginal
04:50
adjustment if I would get an assignment
04:52
let’s say read five chapters in a book I
04:55
wouldn’t think of it as five chapters I
04:57
wouldn’t even think of it as one chapter
04:58
I would break it down into these tasks
05:01
that I could achieve that would require
05:03
me to focus for just five or ten minutes
05:05
at a time so maybe three or four
05:07
paragraphs that’s it I would do that
05:10
when I was done with those five or ten
05:12
minutes I would get up I’d go shoot some
05:14
hoops do a little drawing maybe play
05:16
video games for a few minutes and then I
05:18
come back not necessarily the same
05:21
assignment not even necessarily to the
05:23
same subject but just to another task
05:25
that required just 5 to 10 minutes of my
05:27
attention from that point forward all
05:30
the way through to graduation I was a
05:32
straight-a student Dean’s List
05:34
President’s Honor Roll every semester I
05:37
then went on to one of the top graduate
05:40
programs in the world for finance and
05:42
economics same approach same results so
05:46
then I graduate I start my career and
05:49
I’m thinking this worked really well for
05:51
me you know you take these big concepts
05:54
these complex ideas these big
05:56
assignments you break them down to much
05:58
more manageable tasks and then along the
06:01
way you make a marginal improvement to
06:03
the process you know the odds of success
06:05
in your favor I’m gonna try and do this
06:07
in my career so I did I started out as
06:11
an exotic derivatives trader or credit
06:12
Swiss it then led me to be global head
06:15
of currency option trading for Bank of
06:17
America global head of emerging markets
06:19
for AIG international it helped me
06:21
deliver top-tier returns as a global
06:24
macro hedge fund manager for 12 years
06:26
and to become founder and CIO of two
06:29
award-winning hedge funds so it gets the
06:32
2001 and I’m thinking this whole idea it
06:37
worked really well in school it’s been
06:39
served
06:40
well as professional why aren’t I
06:42
applying this in my personal life like
06:44
to all those big ambitious goals I have
06:46
for myself so one day I’m walking to
06:50
work and at the time my my commute was a
06:53
walk from one end of Hyde Park to the
06:55
other in London it took me about 45
06:58
minutes each way hour and a half a day
07:00
seven and a half hours a week 30 hours a
07:03
month three hundred and sixty hours a
07:05
year when I was awake aware basically
07:09
wasting time listening to music on my
07:11
iPod so my way home from work that day I
07:14
stopped at the store I picked up the
07:17
first 33 CDs in the Pimsleur German
07:19
language program ripped them and put
07:21
them onto my ipod but I didn’t stop
07:24
there because the truth of the matter is
07:26
I’m an undisciplined person and I knew
07:29
that at some point I’d switch away from
07:32
the language and go back to the music so
07:35
I removed that temptation by removing
07:37
all of the music they left me with just
07:39
one option listen to the language tapes
07:42
so 10 months later I’d listened to all
07:44
99 CDs in the German language program
07:47
listened to each one three times each
07:49
they went to Berlin for a 16 day
07:51
intensive German course when I was done
07:55
I invited my wife and kids to meet me we
07:58
walked around the city I spoke German to
08:00
the Germans they spoke German back to me
08:02
my kids were amazed I mean that couldn’t
08:06
close their jaws but you and I we know
08:10
there’s actually nothing amazing about
08:13
what I just done I made this marginal
08:15
adjustment to my daily routine this
08:18
marginal adjustment to my process which
08:21
gets expression I’m Missi indulge and
08:24
now I could speak some German and so in
08:28
that moment I’m thinking it’s not
08:30
supposed to be this easy for a guy like
08:32
me an old guy to learn a new language is
08:35
supposed to have to do that when you’re
08:36
a kid and yet here I had done it this
08:39
marginal adjustment so what other big
08:41
ambitious goals have been holding on to
08:44
putting off until retirement that I
08:46
could potentially achieve if I just made
08:49
a marginal adjustment to my routine so I
08:51
started doing I earned my
08:54
auto racing license I learned how to fly
08:57
a helicopter the rock-climbing skydiving
09:01
I learned how to fly planes aerobatic ly
09:03
well if you’re like me back in 2007 you
09:07
might have the same goal I had I was
09:09
just moving back from London it was
09:12
about 25 pounds overweight and out of
09:14
shape and I wanted to rectify that so I
09:17
could go to the typical route you know I
09:19
could write a check to a gym I’d never
09:20
go to or I could swear to myself that I
09:24
will never again eat those foods that I
09:26
love but are doing all the damage and I
09:29
knew that going that route rarely
09:31
results in the outcome you desire so I
09:34
decided to become an active participant
09:36
and I thought about the habits and
09:37
passions that I’ve developed over the
09:39
course of my life and I thought can I
09:41
make just a marginal adjustment to them
09:43
so that they work in my favor as opposed
09:45
to against me and so I did I’ve got this
09:47
habit where I’ve been walking an hour
09:49
and a half a day for the last seven
09:51
years and I’ve got this passion for
09:53
being in the outdoors and so that year I
09:57
didn’t actually set the new year’s
09:58
resolution to lose 25 pounds I said a
10:01
resolution to hike all 33 trails in the
10:03
front country of Santa Barbara’s
10:05
mountains and I’d never been on a hike
10:07
before in my life but the truth in
10:11
matter is it’s not about the 33 trails
10:13
you have to break this big ambitious
10:16
goal down into these more manageable
10:18
decisions the types of decisions that
10:20
need to be made correctly along the way
10:22
in order to improve the odds of
10:24
achieving the type of outcome you desire
10:26
it’s not about even one trail it’s about
10:30
those tiny little decisions you know
10:32
like when you’re sitting at your desk
10:33
putting in just a little extra time at
10:35
the end of a day or you’re lying on your
10:37
couch and you’re clicking through the
10:38
channels on your remote control or
10:40
scrolling through your Facebook feed and
10:42
in that moment you make the decision to
10:45
put it down you go put on your hiking
10:47
clothes you go walk outside your front
10:49
door and you shut it behind you
10:51
you walk to your car you get in your car
10:52
you drive to the trailhead you get out
10:55
of the car at the trailhead and you take
10:56
one step you take two steps three steps
10:59
every one of those steps that have just
11:02
described is a tiny little decision that
11:05
needs to be made correctly along the way
11:07
order to achieve the ultimate outcome
11:09
now when I say I want to hike 33 trails
11:12
in the funk country people think about
11:14
the decisions at the top of the mountain
11:16
that’s not what it’s about because if
11:18
you don’t make the right decision when
11:20
you’re on the couch there is no decision
11:22
that occurs at the top of the mountain
11:24
so by the end of the year I had hiked
11:26
all 33 trails in the front country I did
11:28
him a couple of times each I even did a
11:31
few in the back country
11:32
I lost the 25 pounds when I capped the
11:34
year off by doing the hardest half
11:36
marathon in the world the pr2 peak in
11:39
2009 I got really ambitious ambitious
11:44
for a guy who still to this day cannot
11:46
settle down and focus on anything for
11:47
more than five or ten minutes at a time
11:49
and that was to read 50 books but again
11:52
it’s not about reading 50 books it’s not
11:55
even about reading one book it’s not
11:57
about reading a chapter a paragraph a
12:00
sentence it’s about that decision when
12:03
you’re sitting at your desk at the end
12:05
of the day or when you’re lying on the
12:07
couch or flicking through your Facebook
12:09
feed and you put down the phone you pick
12:12
up a book and you read one word if you
12:16
read one word you’ll read two words
12:19
three words you’ll read a sentence a
12:21
paragraph a page a chapter a book you’ll
12:25
read ten books thirty books fifty books
12:28
in 2012 I got really ambitious I said 24
12:33
new year’s resolutions 12 of them were
12:36
to wear what I call giving resolutions
12:38
where I did 12 charitable things that
12:40
didn’t involve writing a check but it’s
12:43
not without its failures I tried to
12:45
donate blood and they rejected me
12:47
because I’d lived in the UK I tried to
12:49
donate my sperm they rejected me because
12:51
I was too old I tried to donate my hair
12:54
and they turns out nobody wants grey
12:56
hair
12:57
so here I was trying to do something to
13:00
make myself feel good and it was having
13:02
the opposite effect so anyway I’ve also
13:05
had these twelve learning resolutions to
13:08
learn twelve new skills and when I was
13:10
done with unicycling parkour slacklining
13:14
jumping stilts and drumming my wife
13:17
suggested I learned how to knit and I’ll
13:21
be honest I wasn’t all that passionate
13:23
about knitting but one day I’m sitting
13:26
under this forty foot tall eucalyptus
13:28
tree that’s 2.6 miles up the cold spring
13:31
trail in Santa Barbara and I’m thinking
13:32
that tree would look really cool if it
13:35
were covered in yarn and so I went home
13:38
and I googled this and it turns out this
13:40
is a thing people do it’s called yarn
13:42
bombing you wrap these public structures
13:44
with the yarn and the second annual
13:47
international yarn bombing day was just
13:49
82 days away so for the next 82 days no
13:54
matter where I was if I was in a board
13:57
meeting on the trading floor in an
14:00
airplane or in the hospital I was
14:02
knitting one stitch at a time in 82 days
14:06
later I had done my first ever yarn bomb
14:16
and the response to it Lumi away so I
14:20
kept going with bigger more ambitious
14:25
projects that required more engineering
14:27
skills and in 2014 I set the goal to
14:31
wrap six massive boulders in Los Padres
14:33
National Forest at the top of the
14:35
mountains but if I was going to pull
14:36
this off I’d need help so at this point
14:39
that had a few thousand followers on
14:41
social media as the yarn bomber and I
14:46
started getting packages lots of
14:49
packages 388 contributors from 36
14:53
countries in all 50 states in the end I
14:56
didn’t wrap one massive Boulder I wrap
14:59
18 so I kept going with bigger more
15:09
ambitious projects that would required
15:11
me to work with new materials like
15:13
fiberglass and wood and metals which
15:16
culminates in a project that is
15:18
currently at TMC here in Tucson where I
15:21
wrapped the Children’s Hospital along
15:26
the way I stopped knitting I never
15:28
really liked it but I like crocheting so
15:38
I started making these seven inch screen
15:40
II squares because that’s the standard
15:42
granny square and I thought along the
15:44
way why am i stopping at 7 inches I need
15:46
big stuff so I started making bigger
15:50
Frannie squares one day I come home from
15:52
a business trip and I’ve got this really
15:54
large granny and I went to the web site
15:57
of Guinness I was curious what’s the
15:59
world’s largest granny square and it
16:02
turns out there’s no category for it
16:05
so I applied and they rejected me so I
16:09
appealed and they rejected me I appealed
16:13
again and they said fine if you make it
16:16
10 meters by 10 meters we’ll create a
16:18
new category and you will be a Guinness
16:20
world record holder so for the next two
16:23
years 7 months 17 days one stitch of the
16:29
time I finally reached more than half a
16:31
million stitches incorporated more than
16:33
30 miles of yarn and I am now the
16:35
official Guinness world record holder
16:37
for the largest crocheted granny’s
16:47
along the way I’ve garnered an awful lot
16:50
of attention for my escapades I’ve been
16:52
featured in Newsweek magazine Eric news
16:55
which kind of the Bible for artists but
16:57
what I want you to realize when you hear
16:59
these things I’m still that c- student
17:03
I’m still that kid who can’t settle down
17:07
or focus for more than five or ten
17:09
minutes at a time and I remain a guy who
17:12
possesses no special gift of talent or
17:15
skill all I do is take really big
17:18
ambitious projects that people seem to
17:20
marvel at break them down to their
17:22
simplest form and then just make
17:24
marginal improvements along the way to
17:25
improve my odds of achieving them and so
17:28
the whole reason I’m giving this talk is
17:30
I’m hoping to inspire several of you to
17:33
pull some of those ambitious dreams that
17:36
you have for yourself off the bookshelf
17:37
and start pursuing them by making that
17:40
marginal adjustment to your routine
17:42
thank you

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