The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons From 15 Years as CEO of The Walt Disney Company

One Sentence Summary

At all costs, you must be willing to innovate the way you do business and what your company delivers; "Innovate or Die" mentality.

Two Key Takeaways

  1. When you innovate, everything has to change, not just the way you deliver a product
  2. Defining long-term priorities (3 or less), sticking to them, and repeating them often will be a sure sign of a successful and coherent organization.

Chapter 1: Starting at the Bottom

  • "I didn't have a clear idea of what 'success' meant, no specific vision of being wealthy or powerful, but I was determined not to live a life of disappointment.
  • Having dedicated time to think every day is important. Creating space in each day to allow your thoughts to wander beyond your immediate job responsibilities. "I'm certain I'd be less productive and less creative in my work if I didn't also spend those first few hours away from email and text messages."
  • Learning to embrace new technologies, try every new gadget, and break every stale format is critical to a company today. One must have an "Innovate or Die" mentality.
  • "There's no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new or untested."
  • There's a delicate balance between demanding that your people perform, and not instilling a fear of failure in them. That balance is critical to find.
  • "In your work, in your life, you'll be more respected and trusted by the people around you if you honestly own up to your mistakes."
  • Be decent to people. Treat everyone with empathy and fairness.
  • "Excellence and fairness do not have to be mutually exclusive." You can be an excellent company, and care about the people you work with and serve.

Chapter 2: Betting on the Talent

  • "True integrity - a sense of knowing who you are and being guided by your own clear sense of right and wrong - is a kind of secret weapon."
  • "One person's unwillingness to give a timely response can cause so much unnecessary strain and inefficiency."
  • The ability to look at things not as a catastrophe, but as a puzzle to be solved, will drastically shift the way your team approaches the problem.
  • "My instinct throughout my career has always been to say yes to every opportunity."

Chapter 3: Know What You Don't Do (And Trust in What You Do)

  • "You can't pretend to be someone you're not or to know something you don't."
  • "Managing creative processes start with the understanding that it's not a science - everything is subjective; there is often no right or wrong."
  • "I'd much rather take big risks and sometimes fail than not take risks at all."
  • "If you want innovation - and you should, always - you need to give permission to fail."

Chapter 4: Enter Disney

  • Don't invest resources and time into your company that will give small returns. It's not worth taking up people's time with.
  • When two leaders have a dysfunction relationship, there's no way that the rest of the company beneath them can be functional.
  • "Managing your own time and respecting others' time is one of the most vital things to do as a manager."
  • When finding yourself in a hopeful situation that it'll work out without being able to explain how it'll work out, that's when you need ask clarifying questions.

  • What's the problem I need to solve?
  • Does this solution make sense?
  • If I'm feeling some doubt, why?
  • Am I doing this for sound reasons or am I motivated by something personal?

Chapter 5: Second In Line

  • Don't let ambition to get too far ahead of opportunity
  • Do the job you have well. Be patient. Look for opportunities to pitch in and expand and grow. Make yourself one of the people, through attitude and energy and focus, that your bosses feel they have to turn to when an opportunity arises.
  • "Good leadership isn't about being indispensable; it's about helping others be prepared to possibly step into your shoes - giving them access to your own decison making, identifying the skills they need to develop and helping them improve, and, sometimes being honest enough to tell them why they're not ready for the job.

Chapter 6: Good Things Can Happen

  • Optimism in a leader, especially in challenging times, is vital
  • "it's about believing you and the people around you can steer toward the best outcome, and not communicating the feeling that all is lost if things don't break your way. The tone you set as a leader has an enormous effect on the people around you. No one wants to follow a pessimist.

Chapter 7: It's About the Future

  • Determine Your Priorities. You only get three. "Priorities are the few things you're going to spend a lot time and capital on."
  • Communicate your priorities clearly and repeatedly. It's what separates great managers from the rest.
  • The way to get people to admire the company working for you, is to create products they're proud of.
  • Don't let negativity from people you barley know, affect the way you feel about yourself.
  • Don't let blows to the ego populate and stay long in your mind.

Chapter 8: The Power of Respect

  • "Don't let your ego get in the way of making the best possible decision."
  • "If you approach and engage people with respect and empathy, the seemingly impossible can become real."
  • Be willing to disrupt your companies business model if it will have a positive affect in the long-term.
  • Give people authority. If you trust them to do a job, give them total control over that department, the job, and the decisions needed to be made in that field.

Chapter 9: Disney-Pixar And a New Path to the Future

  • Long-shots aren't usually as long as they seem.
  • Weigh all sides of a decision. Don't let the negatives drown out the positives. Just because they're more negatives, they may not be as dramatic as they few positives.
  • "Nothing is a sure thing, but you need to at the very least be willing to take big risks. You can't have big wins without them."

Chapter 10: Marvel and Massive Risks That Make Perfect Sense

  • "Surround yourself with people who are good in addition to being good at what they do."

Chapter 11: Star Wars

  • "The worst thing you can do when entering a negotiation is to suggest or promise something because you know the other person wants to hear it, only to have to reverse course later."
  • Don't project anxiety onto your team. It's counterproductive.

Chapter 12: If You Don't Innovate, You Die

  • Short-term loses are guaranteed if you shift your business model. It won't look positive, but adjusting course to a long-term change is the best thing you can do for an organization.
  • "Being present for your people - and making sure they know that you're available to them - is so important for the morale and effectiveness of a company."
  • "When you innovate, everything needs to change, not just the way you make or deliver a product."

Chapter 13: No Price On Integrity

  • "A companies integrity depends on the integrity of its people."

Chapter 14: Core Values

  • "Wherever you are along the path, you're the same person you've always been"


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