The Books That Michael Eisner Recommends for Life and Business
Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s recommended books for a life in business are not the typical list from an entertainment industry mogul. They’re about the importance of summer camp, the power of storytelling, and the never-ending quest for success, especially after failure.
And while the story of Teddy Roosevelt’s post-presidential harrowing adventure and the poetry of Robert Frost aren’t exactly Good to Great and Habits of Highly Effective People, they are instructive of the path Eisner has taken through decades at the highest levels of the corporate world.
Check out what Michael Eisner has to say about these great books:
Through one of history’s most profound leaders, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin demonstrates that in order to be successful leaders must surround themselves with people of diverse thinking and ideas. Lincoln was able to defeat his rivals, winning the coveted presidency, but what he did next was a great act of leadership (and courage): he harnessed the diverse talent of his adversaries to create a cabinet that went on to successfully tackle the Civil War and help abolish slavery. Diversity — of heritage, experience, ideology — is more essential today than ever before, and we would do well to take a page from Lincoln’s playbook. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath for President Trump to invite Hillary Clinton — or even Marco Rubio — to serve as an adviser.
Camp, with its spartan accommodations, lack of privacy and regimented activity schedule may seem more military training than summer vacation, but my experiences attending and working at Keewaydin are some of the most important of my life. If I had to choose between camp and a Harvard MBA, the former is better training for a successful life in business. As I write in this book, “Camp taught me a lot of little things, and the experiences accumulated into some big ‘stuff,’ stuff that builds backbone and teaches lessons that keep popping up in adulthood.”
On the poem “Fire and Ice”: Speaking of Keewaydin, I met Robert Frost there when he read to the campfire in the late 1950s. The succinct way Frost instructed, and his austere New England style, stayed with me. Most people think “Fire and Ice” is a statement about the end of the world, but as an English and theater major and a “content person,” I think of this poem as a thesis for storytelling. The desire and passion of love (fire) drive motivation and action on one hand, and the repressed instincts and cool detachment of hate (ice) drive an altogether different kind of motivation and action. Together, this poem embodies humanity and great drama.
River of Doubt documents Theodore Roosevelt's post-presidential journey through the Amazon with his son Kermit and Brazilian explorer Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon. It’s an incredibly rich adventure story with one of America’s most important figures at its center. But that’s not what I like about it. Of course, it is about teamwork. Of course, it is about a father and son (I have three). But it is also about a man obsessed with having failed; a man obsessed with being busy and occupied; a man who achieved the impossible many times, who never gave up, but who had to prove finally he was not a loser. Against all odds, and mostly for the wrong reasons, he entered the adventure and succeeded … barely! The lessons of this book revolve around keeping egos in check but striving for the impossible, accepting loss without anger but harboring a burning determination to come back, being risky but risk-averse, and recognizing even the most lauded are flawed. Now that’s drama.
Great partnerships are a critical ingredient in success, both in business and in life. I wrote. Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed to honor that truth. From my own partnership with the indefatigable Frank Wells to nine other of the most storied business relationships of all time (Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger, Bill and Melinda Gates, Joe Torre and Don Zimmer). Working Together shows that the individual matters, but without the team, you’re a gunshot in the desert.
You can read Eisner's full reading list here.
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