The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger

Rating: 10/10

From a nobody at ABC to CEO of Disney, Bob Iger has learnt a lot about business, managing people, and simply navigating a busy life. This book is incredibly readable. It distils Iger’s career, Disney’s resurrection, and his own professional and personal philosophies into a coherent and engaging story.

For anyone looking to read about managing businesses, people, or your own career, this is a must read. I took a lot of notes:

The ten principles that strike me as necessary to true leadership.

  1. Optimism. One of the most important qualities of a good leader is optimism, a pragmatic enthusiasm for what can be achieved. Even in the face of difficult choices and less than ideal outcomes, an optimistic leader does not yield to pessimism. Simply put, people are not motivated or energized by pessimists.
  2. Courage. The foundation of risk-taking is courage, and in ever-changing, disrupted businesses, risk-taking is essential, innovation is vital, and true innovation occurs only when people have courage. This is true of acquisitions, investments, and capital allocations, and it particularly applies to creative decisions. Fear of failure destroys creativity.
  3. Focus. Allocating time, energy, and resources to the strategies, problems, and projects that are of highest importance and value is extremely important, and it’s imperative to communicate your priorities clearly and often.
  4. Decisiveness. All decisions, no matter how difficult, can and should be made in a timely way. Leaders must encourage a diversity of opinion balanced with the need to make and implement decisions. Chronic indecision is not only inefficient and counterproductive, but it is deeply corrosive to morale.
  5. Curiosity. A deep and abiding curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas, as well as an awareness and an understanding of the marketplace and its changing dynamics. The path to innovation begins with curiosity.
  6. Fairness. Strong leadership embodies the fair and decent treatment of people. Empathy is essential, as is accessibility. People committing honest mistakes deserve second chances, and judging people too harshly generates fear and anxiety, which discourage communication and innovation. Nothing is worse to an organization than a culture of fear.
  7. Thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness is one of the most underrated elements of good leadership. It is the process of gaining knowledge, so an opinion rendered or decision made is more credible and more likely to be correct. It’s simply about taking the time to develop informed opinions.
  8. Authenticity. Be genuine. Be honest. Don’t fake anything. Truth and authenticity breed respect and trust.
  9. The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection. This doesn’t mean perfectionism at all costs, but it does mean a refusal to accept mediocrity or make excuses for something being “good enough.” If you believe that something can be made better, put in the effort to do it. If you’re in the business of making things, be in the business of making things great.
  10. Integrity. Nothing is more important than the quality and integrity of an organization’s people and its product. A company’s success depends on setting high ethical standards for all things, big and small. Another way of saying this is: The way you do anything is the way you do everything.

Focus on quality

  • Look, always, for new ways to connect [customers] and grab their attention.
  • “Do what you need to do to make it better.”
  • “The relentless pursuit of perfection.” In practice that means a lot of things, and it’s hard to define. It’s a mindset, really, more than a specific set of rules. It’s not, at least as I have internalized it, about perfectionism at all costs (something Roone wasn’t especially concerned about). Instead, it’s about creating an environment in which you refuse to accept mediocrity. You instinctively push back against the urge to say There’s not enough time, or I don’t have the energy, or This requires a difficult conversation I don’t want to have, or any of the many other ways we can convince ourselves that “good enough” is good enough. […] It’s about pushing back against the urge to say that “good enough” is good enough.


  • Innovate or die, and there’s no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new or untested.
  • The need to be comfortable with failure was the most profound. Not with lack of effort but with the unavoidable truth that if you want innovation—and you should, always—you need to give permission to fail.
  • Of all the lessons I learned in my first year running prime time at ABC, the acceptance that creativity isn’t a science was the most profound. I became comfortable with failure—not with lack of effort, but with the fact that if you want innovation, you need to grant permission to fail.

Leadership and management

  • It’s a delicate thing, finding the balance between demanding that your people perform and not instilling a fear of failure in them.
  • He knew what he didn’t know. This is a rare trait in a boss.
  • [Value] ability more than experience, and [believe] in putting people in roles that [require] more of them than they knew they had in them.
  • The first rule is not to fake anything. You have to be humble, and you can’t pretend to be someone you’re not or to know something you don’t. You’re also in a position of leadership, though, so you can’t let humility prevent you from leading.
  • True authority and true leadership come from knowing who you are and not pretending to be anything else.
  • Managing your own time and respecting others’ time is one of the most vital things to do as a manager.
  • As a leader, you should want those around you to be eager to rise up and take on more responsibility, as long as dreaming about the job they want doesn’t distract them from the job they have. You can’t let ambition get too far ahead of opportunity.
  • 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 decision making, identifying the skills they need to develop and helping them improve, and, as I’ve had to do, sometimes being honest with them about why they’re not ready for the next step up.
  • Value ability more than experience, and put people in roles that require more of them than they know they have in them.
  • Surround yourself with people who are good in addition to being good at what they do. You can’t always predict who will have ethical lapses or reveal a side of themselves you never suspected was there. In the worst cases, you will have to deal with acts that reflect badly on the company and demand censure. That’s an unavoidable part of the job, but you have to demand honesty and integrity from everyone, and when there’s a lapse you have to deal with it immediately.
  • Managing creativity is an art, not a science. When giving notes, be mindful of how much of themselves the person you’re speaking to has poured into the project and how much is at stake for them.
  • Don’t start negatively, and don’t start small. People will often focus on little details as a way of masking a lack of any clear, coherent, big thoughts. If you start petty, you seem petty.
  • As a leader, if you don’t do the work, the people around you are going to know, and you’ll lose their respect fast. You have to be attentive. You often have to sit through meetings that, if given the choice, you might choose not to sit through. You have to listen to other people’s problems and help find solutions. It’s all part of the job.
  • Michael Eisner used to say, “micromanaging is underrated.” I agree with him—to a point. Sweating the details can show how much you care. “Great” is often a collection of very small things, after all. The downside of micromanagement is that it can be stultifying, and it can reinforce the feeling that you don’t trust the people who work for you.
  • You have to convey your priorities clearly and repeatedly. If you don’t articulate your priorities clearly, then the people around you don’t know what their own should be. Time and energy and capital get wasted.
  • You can do a lot for the morale of the people around you (and therefore the people around them) just by taking the guesswork out of their day-to-day life. A lot of work is complex and requires intense amounts of focus and energy, but this kind of messaging is fairly simple: This is where we want to be. This is how we’re going to get there.
  • When hiring, try to surround yourself with people who are good in addition to being good at what they do. Genuine decency—an instinct for fairness and openness and mutual respect—is a rarer commodity in business than it should be, and you should look for it in the people you hire and nurture it in the people who work for you.


  • My instinct throughout my career has always been to say yes to every opportunity. In part this is just garden-variety ambition. I wanted to move up and learn and do more, and I wasn’t going to forgo any chance to do that, but I also wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing things that I was unfamiliar with.
  • You have to ask the questions you need to ask, admit without apology what you don’t understand, and do the work to learn what you need to learn as quickly as you can. There’s nothing less confidence-inspiring than a person faking a knowledge they don’t possess.
  • Ask the questions you need to ask, admit without apology what you don’t understand, and do the work to learn what you need to learn as quickly as you can.
  • Be patient; look for opportunities to pitch in and expand and grow; and 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. Conversely, if you’re a boss, these are the people to nurture—not the ones who are clamoring for promotions and complaining about not being utilized enough but the ones who are proving themselves to be indispensable day in and day out.
  • Don’t let ambition get ahead of opportunity. By fixating on a future job or project, you become impatient with where you are. You don’t tend enough to the responsibilities you do have, and so ambition can become counterproductive. It’s important to know how to find the balance—do the job you have well; be patient; look for opportunities to pitch in and expand and grow; and make yourself one of the people, through attitude and energy and focus, whom your bosses feel they have to turn to when an opportunity arises.


  • Anything that reminds you that you’re not the center of the universe is a good thing.
  • Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech, which has long been an inspiration: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”
  • Some of the greatest speeches ever delivered, including Ronald Reagan’s speech on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day; Robert Kennedy’s impromptu speech in Indianapolis when Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed; Franklin Roosevelt’s and John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speeches; Obama’s speech after the massacre at the A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina; and numerous Churchill addresses.
  • To tell great stories, you need great talent.

Decision making

  • Instances in which you find yourself hoping that something will work without being able to convincingly explain to yourself how it will work—that’s when a little bell should go off, and you should walk yourself through some 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?
  • It’s perhaps not the most responsible advice in a book like this to say that leaders should just go out there and trust their gut, because it might be interpreted as endorsing impulsivity over thoughtfulness, gambling rather than careful study. As with everything, the key is awareness, taking it all in and weighing every factor—your own motivations, what the people you trust are saying, what careful study and analysis tell you, and then what analysis can’t tell you. You carefully consider all of these factors, understanding that no two circumstances are alike, and then, if you’re in charge, it still ultimately comes down to instinct. Is this right or isn’t it? Nothing is a sure thing, but you need at the very least to be willing to take big risks. You can’t have big wins without them.
  • People sometimes shy away from big swings because they build a case against trying something before they even step up to the plate. Long shots aren’t usually as long as they seem. With enough thoughtfulness and commitment, the boldest ideas can be executed.
  • You have to do the homework. You have to be prepared.
  • If something doesn’t feel right to you, it won’t be right for you.


  • “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 projects that would sap the resources of my company and me and not give much back.
  • One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve seen […] is getting locked into a release date and then letting that influence creative decisions. It’s better to give up a release date and keep working to make [a better product], and we’ve always tried to put quality before everything else, even if it means taking a short-term hit to our bottom line.
  • Don’t be in the business of playing it safe. Be in the business of creating possibilities for greatness.
  • Treating others with respect is an undervalued currency when it comes to negotiating. A little respect goes a long way, and the absence of it can be very costly.
  • If you’re in the business of making something, be in the business of making something great.

Personal virtues

  • Take responsibility when you screw up. In work, in life, you’ll be more respected and trusted by the people around you if you own up to your mistakes. It’s impossible to avoid them; but it is possible to acknowledge them, learn from them, and set an example that it’s okay to get things wrong sometimes.
  • Be decent to people. Treat everyone with fairness and empathy. This doesn’t mean that you lower your expectations or convey the message that mistakes don’t matter. It means that you create an environment where people know you’ll hear them out, that you’re emotionally consistent and fair-minded, and that they’ll be given second chances for honest mistakes.
  • Excellence and fairness don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Strive for perfection but always be aware of the pitfalls of caring only about the product and never the people.
  • 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 leadership weapon. If you trust your own instincts and treat people with respect, the company will come to represent the values you live by.
  • Optimism emerges from faith in yourself and in the people who work for you. It’s not about saying things are good when they’re not, and it’s not about conveying some blind faith that “things will work out.” It’s about believing in your and others’ abilities.