Stephen Duneier: How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals at TEDxTucson (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of lecturer and professional investment manager, Stephen Duneier’s TEDx talk: How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals at TEDxTucson conference.  This event happened on January 14, 2017 at Tucson, Arizona.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals by Stephen Duneier at TEDxTucson


By a show of hands, how many of you believe you could replicate this image of Brad Pitt with just a pencil and piece of paper? Well, I’m going to show you how to do this.


And in so doing, I’m going to give you the skill necessary to become a world-class artist. And it shouldn’t take more than about 15 seconds. But before I do that, how many of you believe you could replicate this image of a solid gray square? Every one of us. And if you can make one gray square, you can make two, three, nine.

Truth of the matter is, if you could make just one gray square, it’d be very difficult to argue that you couldn’t make every gray square necessary to replicate the image in its entirety. And there you have it. I’ve just given you the skills necessary to become a world-class artist. I know what you’re thinking. “That’s not real art, certainly wouldn’t make me a world-class artist”.


So let me introduce you to Chuck Close. He’s one of the highest-earning artists in the entire world, for decades, and he creates his art using this exact technique. You see, what stands between us and achieving even our most ambitious dreams has far less to do with possessing some magical skill or talent, and far more to do with how we approach problems and make decisions to solve them.

And because of the continuous and compounding nature of all those millions of decisions that we face on a regular basis, even a marginal improvement in our process can have a huge impact on our end results. And I’ll prove this to you by taking a look at the career of Novak Djokovic.


Back in 2004, when he first became a professional tennis player, he was ranked 680th in the world. It wasn’t until the end of his third year that he jumped up to be ranked third in the world. He went from making 250,000 a year to 5 million a year, in prize money alone, and of course, he did this by winning more matches. In 2011, he became the number one ranked men’s tennis player in the world, started earning an average of 14 million a year in prize money alone and winning a dominating 90% of his matches.

Now, here’s what’s really interesting about all of these very impressive statistics. Novak doesn’t control any of them. What he does control are all the tiny little decisions that he needs to make correctly along the way in order to move the probability in favor of him achieving these types of results. And we can quantify and track his progress in this area by taking a look at the percentage of points that he wins.


Because in tennis the typical point involves one to maybe three decisions, I like to refer to this as his decision success rate. So, back when he was winning about 49% of the matches he was playing, he was winning about 49% of the points he played.


Then to jump up, become number three in the world, and actually earn five million dollars a year for swinging a racquet, he had to improve his decision success rate to just 52%.

Then to become not just number one but maybe one of the greatest players to ever play the game, he had to improve his decision success rate to just 55%. And I keep using this word “just”. I don’t want to imply this is easy to do, clearly, it’s not.


But the type of marginal improvements that I’m talking about are easily achievable by every single one of us in this room. And I’ll show you what I mean.

From kindergarten, all the way through to my high school graduation… yes, that’s high school graduation for me…  every one of my report cards basically said the same thing: Stephen is a very bright young boy, if only he would just settle down and focus. What they didn’t realize was I wanted that even more than they wanted it for me, I just couldn’t. And so, from kindergarten straight through the 2nd year of college, I was a really consistent C, C- student.


But then going into my junior year, I’d had enough. I thought I want to make a change. I’m going to make a marginal adjustment, and I’m going to stop being a spectator of my decision-making and start becoming an active participant. And so, that year, instead of pretending, again, that I would suddenly be able to settle down and focus on things for more than five or ten minutes at a time, I decided to assume I wouldn’t.

And so, if I wanted to achieve the type of outcome that I desire — doing well in school — I was going to actually have to change my approach. And so I made a marginal adjustment. If I would get an assignment, let’s say, read five chapters in a book, I wouldn’t think of it as five chapters, I wouldn’t even think of it as one chapter, I would break it down into these tasks that I could achieve, that would require me to focus for just five or ten minutes at a time. So, maybe three or four paragraphs. That’s it.

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By Pangambam S

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