Book Summary: The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger

Bob Iger is the CEO of Disney and his book, The Ride of a Lifetime, describes his start in media and the path that led him to becoming the CEO of Disney. It wasn’t an easy or clearly laid out journey, but during that process, he learned various leadership principles that he explores throughout the book. There’s 3 specific principles that stood out to me and were a great reminder, so in the space below I will share those lessons with you.

  1. Innovate or Die. There can be no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new.

    This is a thread throughout Iger’s stories. He talks about the various times that the companies he’s worked at or the team’s he’s been on, have had to innovate to remain relevant. He says, “I know why companies fail to innovate. It’s tradition. Tradition generates so much friction, every step of the way.”

    When he became CEO, he knew that one of the three priorities of his time leading the company would need to be an innovation in the way Disney content was shared, watched, and distributed. He says, “When you innovate, everything needs to change, not just the way you make or deliver a product”.

    The reason many people don’t innovate, is because it is easier to stay comfortable than it is to change. It requires greater effort to overcome the friction and create new pathways.

  2. Don’t be in the business of playing it safe. Be in the business of creating possibilities for greatness.

    Playing it safe is easier than acknowledging risk and fear and moving forward through them anyway. He states, “Too often, we lead from a place of fear rather than courage, stubbornly trying to build a bulwark to protect old models that can’t possibly survive the sea change that is under way. It’s hard to look at your current models, sometimes even ones that are profitable in the moment, and make a decision to undermine them in order to face the change that’s coming.”

    Iger shares a lesson he learned from taking a risk. He says, “I got up and addressed the cast and crew. ‘We tried something big and it didn’t work,’ I said. ‘I’d much rather take big risks and sometimes fail than not take risks at all.'” Even though he didn’t play it safe, and failed, he didn’t regret it. Iger knows that there’s far greater learning involved when you take risks into the unknown than if you stay safely where you are, even if you fail in the process.
  3. If you’re in the business of making things, be in the business of making things great.

    Iger shares a story about a documentary he watched called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. It’s about a chef who others have described a master sushi chef with the embodiment of “shokunin”. Shokunin when translated means, “the endless pursuit of perfection for some greater good”. Iger shared this chef’s documentary with his 250 executives as the illustration of what he meant when Iger would talk to his team about “the relentless pursuit of perfection”. It’s not just taking pride in the things you create but also the commitment and work ethic to continuously improve it and continue to make those things better. Iger says, “great is often a collection of very small things, and [my mentor] helped me appreciate that even more deeply.”

3 Questions to Ponder:

  • Where am I “stuck in tradition” and unwilling to innovate?
  • What is a risk that I’ve been avoiding that I should take?
  • Am I in the business of making things great?