Book: The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

Admittedly, before reading this book, I already had vested interest in Disney. I am fascinated by the transformation that the company has been going through and I own its stock in my humble portfolio. Nonetheless, it is one of those books that I have read with more focus than I have others.

The book offers interesting insights into the transformation Disney had to go through to revive its Animations and fend off the disruption in the Entertainment industry. Through the words of Bob Iger, the delicacy of M&A negotiations is put on display, including prices paid for companies, the process to get the sellers to sell and the politics that come with acquisitions. To a fan of business strategies and technology, it’s fascinating to read.

One of the things I like about the book is the relationship between Bob Iger and the late great Steve Jobs. Bob repeatedly mentioned his admiration and love for Steve, even long after the late co-founder of Apple died. If you live your live so well that people fondly remember you long after you die and that you change lives while you live, it’s a life magnificently lived. Almost 10 years since his death, Steve is still an inspiration to me.

Bob’s account is an example of how patience and hard work can be rewarding in the long run. He used to be a guy grabbing coffee for Frank Sinatra. In his 50s and 60s, he ran one of the most iconic and influential companies in the world. He also gives away his leadership lessons which I will quote below.

All in all, if you are looking for an easy and good read, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

Decades after I stopped working for Roone, I watched a documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about a master sushi chef from Tokyo named Jiro Ono, whose restaurant has three Michelin stars and is one of the most sought-after reservations in the world. In the film, he is his late eighties and still trying to perfect his art. He is described by some as being the living embodiment of the Japanese word shokunin, which is “the endless pursuit of perfection for some greater good”

When Iron Man 2 came out, Steve took his son to see it and called me the next day. “I took Reed to see Iron Man 2 last night” he said “It sucked”

“Well thank you. It’s done about $75 million in business. It’s going to do a huge number this weekend. I don’t take your criticism lightly, Steve, but it’s a success and you’re not the audience” (I knew Iron Man 2 was nobody’s ida of an Oscar winner, but I just couldn’t let him feel he was right all of the time

Later, after we’d closed the deal, Ike told me that he’d still had his doubts and the call from Steve made a big difference to him. “He said you were true to your word” Ike said. I was grateful that Steve was willing to do it as a friend, really, more than as the most influential member of our board. Every one in a while, I would say to him, “I have to ask you this, you’re our largest shareholder” and he would always respond, “You can’t think of me as that. That’s insulting. I’m just a good friend”

After the funeral, Laurene came up to me and said, “I’ve never told my side of that story.” She described Steve coming home that night. “We had dinner and then the kids left the dinner table, and I said to Steve, ‘So did you tell him?’ ‘I told him’. And I said, ‘Can we trust him?’ ” we were standing there with Steve’s grave behind us, and Laurene, who’d just buried her husband, gave me a gift that I’ve thought about nearly every day since. I’ve certainly thought of Steve every day. “I asked him if we could trust you” Laurene said. “And Steve said, ‘I love that guy’ “

No matter who become or what we accomplish, we still feel that we’re essentially the kid we were at some simpler time long ago. Somehow that’s the trick of leadership, too, I think, to hold on to that awareness of yourself even as the world tells you how powerful and important you are. The moment you start to believe it all too much, the moment you look yourself in the mirror and see a title emblazoned on your forehead, you’ve lost your way. That may be the hardest but also the most necessary lesson to keep in mind, that wherever you are along the path, you’re the same person you’ve always been

Value ability more than experience, and put people in roles that require more of them than they know they have in them

“Avoid getting into the business of manufacturing trombone oil. You may become the greatest trombone-oil manufacturer in the world, but in the end, the world only consumes a few quarts of trombone oil a year!” He was telling me not to invest in small projects that would sap my and the company’s resources and not give much back.

At its essence, good leadership isn’t about being indispensable; it’s about helping others be prepared to step into your shoes – giving them access to your own decision-making, identifying the skills they need to develop and helping them improve, and sometimes being honest with them about why they’re not ready for the next step up

Technological advancements will eventually make older business models obsolete. You can either bemoan that and try with all your might to protect the status quo, or you can work hard to understand and embrace it with more enthusiasm and creativity than your competitors.

Book: Year of Yes

On my way to Austin last weekend, I had a few hours to waste while in transit and on the plane. If you are one of the normal folks, like I am, those hours are not particularly the time when we experience a spurt of efficiency in getting work done. So I took out my beloved Kindle and chose a book to read. Happy that I chose “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person” by Shonda Rhimes. 

Having read business and science-related books for a while, I figured something like a memoir would be a refreshing change of air. Plus, I’d love to know more about the architect behind some of my favorite shows: Scandal and How to get away with murder.

What I like the book is its realness. Shonda’s writing is genuine that I got a feeling I was listening to her story in person. From her struggle as an introvert, self-awareness of the time when she got fat, the allergy with public events. You might find some parts a bit long-winded, but I guess it’s part of the charm. Other highlights for me are her Year of Yes concept, perception of motherhood and commencement speech at Dartmouth. It’s real. It’s rough. It’s honest. And that’s why it is appealing. 

Below is a sneak peek of her perception on motherhood.

“But being a mother is also a job, Shonda”. You know what I say to that? NO. IT IS NOT. 

Being a mother is not a job. Stop throwing things at me. Being a mother isn’t a job. It’s who someone is. You can quit a job. I can’t quit being a mother. Mothers are never off the clock, mothers are never on vacation. Being a mother redefines us, reinvents us, destroys and rebuilds us. Being a mother yanks our hearts out of our bodies and attaches them to our tiny humans and sends them out into the world, forever hostages. 

Please don’t try to tell me it’s the most important job I’ll ever have as a way of trying to convince me to stay at home with my children all day. Don’t. The most important job to a woman who has rent, has a car note, has utility bills and needs groceries is one that pays her money to keep her family alive. Let’s stop trying to make ourselves indulge in the crappy mythological lady-cult that makes being a mother seem like work. 

Working or staying home, one is still a mother. One is not better than the other. Both choices are worthy of the same amount of respect. Motherhood remains equally, painfully death defying and difficult either way. 

I am not a mother, but she makes sense there, doesn’t she? Here is her awesome commence speech

Born a crime

If you haven’t read “Born a crime“, I urge you to. It’s a great book by Trevor Noah. He chronicled his story growing up in South Africa in an insightful and humorous manner. It cracked me up a couple of times. As the books I read are quite serious, the humor, positivity and his experience in the book give me a quick escape sometimes, especially on bad days. Like today. Here are some quotes I particularly love:

“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.”

“I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. “What if…” “If only…” “I wonder what would have…” You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.”

“When you shit, as you first sit down, you’re not fully in the experience yet. You are not yet a shitting person. You’re transitioning from a person about to shit to a person who is shitting. You don’t whip out your smartphone or a newspaper right away. It takes a minute to get the first shit out of the way and get in the zone and get comfortable. Once you reach that moment, that’s when it gets really nice. It’s a powerful experience, shitting. There’s something magical about it, profound even. I think God made humans shit in the way we do because it brings us back down to earth and gives us humility. I don’t care who you are, we all shit the same. Beyoncé shits. The pope shits. The Queen of England shits. When we shit we forget our airs and our graces, we forget how famous or how rich we are. All of that goes away.”

“Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says ‘We’re the same.’ A language barrier says ‘We’re different.’ The architects of apartheid understood this. Part of the effort to divide black people was to make sure we were separated not just physically but by language as well…The great thing about language is that you can just as easily use it to do the opposite: convince people that they are the same. Racism teaches us that we are different because of the color of our skin. But because racism is stupid, it’s easily tricked.”

Two legitimate ways to save tons of money on books

This piece can be helpful to everyone, but it will be more to college students who have to pay hundreds of dollars every year for books that are useful for only 8 or 16 weeks. Understanding that finding digital version of books on the Internet is a controversial issue, I’d like to stay away from that and focus on two tactics that have helped me tremendously and hopefully will do the same for others.

Buy International/Global version of books

In case you have a burning desire to own physical books for future references or a dominant preference for ink and paper, this tactic is for you.

In my experience, books share essentially the same content across versions. The biggest difference perhaps is examples and redistribution rights. Despite sharing the same content, International or Global version is much cheaper than the North America version. Take the book below for example. Same edition. Same authors. Same content. The price difference is a staggering 100 dollars

This is a book I had at school. I have nothing against it or no relation with the author or the publisher. This is just to give an example

As a student, I can speak from first-hand experience that students don’t find much motivation to actively resell books. Even if one manages to resell a book, it will be at a significant discount. Given that much knowledge nowadays is accessible thanks to the Internet and people’s willingness to share via blogs and social media, I don’t think it’s worth it to make a sizeable investment upfront in books and likely a loss eventually.

With International/Global version, there will still be expenses involved. However, the damage is much smaller and if you don’t have the time or will to find a buyer for your books, you probably won’t have to lose much sleep over it.

Public libraries

I have borrowed many books from the public library and saved hundreds of dollars in the process. Books, even some latest releases, are available for free for a few weeks. Renewals are possible, depending on the availability of the books and how coveted they are. At some libraries such as the public one in Omaha, you can even suggest titles for the library to purchase. Of course, the library’s management retains the discretion to approve or decline such suggestions. As part of your taxes goes to funding for public libraries and you can save a lot of money, there is no reason not to take advantage of that.

As students in the US are saddled with a lot of student debt/loans, every dollar saved on books can count tremendously in the future due to a little thing called “compound interest”. Do yourself a favor and find a way to save as much as possible!