Conor Neill is an entrepreneur and teacher at IESE Business School. He speaks and write about Persuasion, the art of Moving People to Action. Here is the full transcript of his TEDx Talk titled “The Discipline of Finishing” at TEDxUniversidaddeNavarra conference.
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Conor Neill – Entrepreneur and teacher
Who would you bet on? Who would you bet on? Imagine you had the 200 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 1,000 euros and you give me a name, and for the rest of that person’s life I will pay you 10% of everything they make, every month, month after month, month after month. 10%. 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 200 people you know best from school, from university, through family connections, who of all the people you know, would be the one person that you would put on that paper and bring to me? Who would you bet on?
And I was asked this question 7 years ago. The man in the picture is Warren Buffett. Warren Buffett at time is 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 7 years ago, when he asked this question to 150 MBAs, in my mind, 3 or 4 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 that you know, that if you had this bet to make, you choose them.
So, let’s work a little bit on this. If we’re going to do this properly, we should put together a process. The question: What criteria would 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 to have a massive impact in the world? I’m assuming you want to do this bet well, because if you do it well, you can use that money for a lot of good causes.
What criteria would you use? Let’s go through some ideas. One idea: let’s get the 200 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-olds already see the grades in school is not the criteria.
What are the criteria we’re using? How about best friends? Patchi, 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 friend isn’t it, what would you use?
Now, Warren Buffett takes this decision every day, and Warren Buffett has 3 criteria. But before I get into the 3 criteria of Warren Buffett, I want to move to the world of psychology — I studied psychology — and to this day, from the beginning of psychology, there is 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 whether qualitative or quantitative. And the test is called the Marshmallow Test.
This here is a marshmallow. The marshmallow test can be conducted on children 3-4 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. It’s his marshmallow! You can do anything you want to it. You can use it in any way you want.
So, 50% eat the marshmallow, 50% don’t eat the marshmallow. And the 50% that don’t eat the marshmallow go on to lead lives that are qualitatively 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 — and you can imagine 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds; they are kind of obvious — the kids that don’t eat the marshmallow, they put their head in their hands, they get up and they stare at the wall, they look at their shoes. Because at the age of 3, they’ve already realized how little power they have over themselves, over their own nature.
And the lesson: the diet fails in the supermarket, not at home. If I go to the supermarket and I buy a chocolate, and that chocolate gets to my house, my willpower might get me through one day, it might get me 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, onto 3 and 4 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 you’d bet on.