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Thinking Outside the Box

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Michael Eisner
Michael Eisner
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Michael Eisner Interview (page: 2 / 4)

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  Michael Eisner

What personal characteristics do you think are important to success, and have been most important to you?

Michael Eisner: Hard work, I think, is important. Being born to parents who care. I don't think necessarily being born to parents of means. Whether it's somebody who walked across Europe out of Poland, or who grew up in the inner city of the United States, or actually was a middle class, or upper class environment. The genetic accident that you want is that you're born from parents who care and support you, and they're there for you, kind of give you the confidence to fail. Succeeding is not really a life experience that does that much good. Failing is a much more sobering and enlightening experience. And how people around you react when you fail is very important. So, to me, the genetic accident of my birth, I think, is the single most important thing. In my own genes, I have a very strong sense of work; I enjoy working. Maybe that, again, is delivered to me environmentally. I was extremely lucky in that I met somebody right after I got out of college who I married. That became very important. I had somebody who was interested in what I was doing, but didn't believe any of my baloney. Constantly said to me, "Don't believe what people write about you." Kept me level-headed. Delivered for me three sons who became the center of my life. Whenever the heady experience of achievement and reward is presented to you, you have three children and a wife who say, you know, "Dad, can we go to the movies?" or "Dad, we're going to do this." They could care less.

Michael Eisner Interview Photo
I think the combination of picking your parents well and then having the same luck with the family that surrounds you gives you a kind of an enclave in which you can succeed. It's very competitive. Sometimes people let the best of themselves come forward, and sometimes people let the worst come forward, at least in American business. The one place I always felt that I could trust, maybe like E.T., was when I got home. They're my staunchest critics and my biggest supporters.

So, I don't know what advice I would give anybody. I believe in the emotional and the psychological side of one's life. I'm psychoanalytically oriented, because I was an English major, I probably shouldn't be. Most people that talk about achievement talk about the non-internal drives. You don't hear much about people suppressing their dark side and letting their light side come out.

I manage a creative company, and I've always managed creative people, since I'm 23 or 24 years old, even in college, writing scripts. You have to have a lot of understanding, and you really have to deal with people who have a lot of things going on in their life that don't relate to what you think they're relating to. When somebody gets mad in the workplace, or somebody yells at you, or blames you for something, maybe they're dealing with their own frustrations, their own sense of failure. And I think understanding that makes you a better manager. Therefore, I put up with a lot. I go for the talent, and put up with a lot of peculiar behavior, none of which I judge, as long as people are basically ethical and moral. I don't know if that answers the questions, but it's a roundabout way for me to say that the ingredients that make for achievement are not necessarily a Harvard education. They're not necessarily winning an award. It may be the sibling who's in the back room who's actually just watching, and studying, and who has an understanding of the drives and the motives.

I think maybe the best education, or the best foundation for business is probably reading Shakespeare, rather than reading some MBA program out of some great business school. I think I'd rather have an English major than an economics major.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Somehow, everything that I've been involved in and the people who I feel most strongly about are those that have the most common sense. It's not that difficult. What brings people down I find are the very human things. The lack of common sense, not the lack of understanding some arithmetic table, not the lack of understanding what exactly the information highway is. But the lack of understanding of why somebody is unhappy, or happy, or motivation.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Why do you think it is that people who seem to have all the preparation and training for a given field sometimes fail?

Michael Eisner: Nobody is what they appear to be, let's start there. People are very complex. Most of the things that people are, they don't express. We express them in entertainment and drama, that is where we have the advantage. We are able to exercise our own inner understandings -- or lack of understandings -- through the dramatic process: theater, movies, television, books, poems, essays. And by doing that you kind of understand that people are complex. They're complex when they haven't achieved, and they're complex when they have achieved. And I happen to work for a company that's a big advocate of the family environment. Without it, I think you're more likely than not to not have these demons that create very anti-social behavior. If you have a strong mother and a strong father... unfortunately, there are too many situations where that doesn't occur, and that's where we have to work to try to reduce that. And I think you have a better shot of achieving if you have that strength. Most of the people that I hear about, whether they come from the inner city, whether they come from foreign countries that don't have a democratic process, where they've struggled beyond anything you can hear, there's at least one parent (if not two) that are there behind them. As I listen to the various achievers talk about their lives, it seems to be a very consistent thing. You know, it's usually not a friend of the family, it's usually not the church, it's usually not the government. It's usually a parent. More than not it's a father, which is interesting to me, but also a mother.

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 09:24 EST
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