Work In Progress
- Work in Progress
(written with Tony Schwartz)
||This is a
book which both delivers on its promise and yet
manages to annoy me consistently. I found myself
yelling at Eisner repeatedly for never admitting
his personality faults or ever taking the blame,
and in general much of what he says I found
Still, the book is at times really
interesting. On the whole, a mixed bag.
|Kevin I can
see how you would feel that way, but I really don't
view those as faults in this type of book. What I
want from an autobiography is not objectivity but
rather for the person to be present his view of
things. And, except for the final few chapters, I
never really felt that he was purposely obscuring
facts or events, but simply telling them the way
he remembers them. Which, whether you agree or
not, tells you a lot about the man.
tell me a lot about him. I found myself in the
position of armchair psychologist, writing in the
margins of the book when he really comes across
as egotistical and megalomaniacal. He takes
credit for things which other people did (in this
way, he's actually a bit like Walt, but with less
A few examples: he makes it sound like
he created DCA's California theme. Or that Splash
Mountain was somehow his brainchild. He's sneaky
the way he does it though. Take Splash Mountain:
"It grew out of a visit to Imagineering that
Frank and I made with my son Breck, then fifteen,
on a Saturday afternoon just weeks after our
arrival at Disney" (209). Uhhh no it didn't,
Michael. It did not "grow out of your visit";
the idea already existed! A page later, he
acknowledges that Tony Baxter had created the
ride. But here, he phrases it as though he had
something to do with it.
reading of that is different. I don't view that
as taking credit for the concept, just for
green-lighting it (which was a result of that
I came away sensing pretty strongly that
this is what Eisner prides himself on. Not in coming
up with the original idea, but in having selected
the good projects on which to follow through.
there I'd have to disagree. He takes great pains
to name-drop, and especially to mention TV shows
and movies he helped create. Beverly Hills Cop?
He created that because of a traffic ticket he
received. Happy Days? His creation. He
says even that he's always worked that way, not
waiting for writers to create stories.
book, this comes across as an act of desperation
to me, as if he's yearning for critical approval.
And, like I said, I don't find it all that
convincing, precisely because he tries so very
know, it doesn't seem so far-fetched to me. He
worked in series development for ABC, and it
seems to me he may actually have produced some
ideas. With Happy Days, he was pretty
detailed about what got done under his watch, and
what happened later. I don't know enough of the
history to say if there was exaggeration, but it
didn't seem like a glory-grab to me.
Though the name-dropping could be
annoying I did find it fascinating because it
showed how this group of minor executives (Eisner,
Diller, Ovitz, Katzenberg, et al.) kind of
progressed as a class until they were all in
major positions of power.
||I admit, I
did like to watch the power players climb the
ladder. It was also interesting to see current-day
executives introduced, such as Paul Pressler and
Bob Iger. But I'll tell you what I think bugs me
about Eisner, both in real life and especially in
this book: he admits no flaws. He has no weakness,
no character drawbacks.
To hear him tell it,
every clash he's ever had with a show biz
personality was never his fault. This is so
unrealistic as to render him in general rather
In other words, if he skews the truth
sometimes, maybe he does it alot. I have a good
example: on p. 94 he sounds a bit like Clinton in
his defensiveness. He thinks it's unfair that he
has this reputation of making commitments only to
reverse them, and he comments: "I never fake
enthusiasm, but I also never assumed that saying let's
do it was synonymous with let's do it no
matter what." This is mincing words and
it just ... grates on me.
He should just admit
that he's wrong sometimes. It would sit so much
better with me.
|Ok, again I
disagree. This "habit" is one I see at
work all the time. Someone will bring our manager
a potential project, which sounds great and our
manager will tell them so. But somewhere down the
road they are going to have to justify it beyond
just being a good idea. Where's the money? Is
that amount of money worth the trouble? etc. Just
seems like good business to me.
But I can
understand why a producer would be upset to find
initial enthusiasm only to be later told that it
isn't worth if the budget is $80 million.
he express appreciation for the idea without
implying commitment? I don't see why he can't say:
"intriguing. I love the idea. Let's see if
it is worthwhile financially."
but then Eisner obviously doesn't feel he was
implying a commitment.
Where I did notice a lack
of self-reflection was in his dealings with
Katzenberg. He mentions that from early in their
relationship they respected each other but also
had problems. Unfortunately, the only problems we
ever hear about are Katzenberg flaws, none are
Eisner's. That did bother me.
diminutive frame and lean, long face made him
look as if all excess had been burned away,
leaving only glasses and teeth" (90). Haha,
I reveled in his meanness. Yeah, this is part and
parcel of Eisner's one-sidedness.
proof check out p. 333, Eisner's smug comments
that doomed Disney's America.
|But he did
admit that those horrible quotes were his mistake.
see that at all! Rather than acknowledge he
misspoke, Eisner uses this book to argue his case
for how we should be viewing what he
says. This is just plain wrong- headed, to lecture
us on how to receive his words.
back, I realize how much my brief moment of
intemperance undermined our case" (334).
about: "The glib reference to historians was
an irritated response to a group of people who I
believed had attacked us unfairly, without making
any real effort to understand what we were trying
to do" (334).
just explains why he said it, it doesn't deny
that saying it was a mistake. I happen to agree
with him on that point.
I felt at the time (I was
working on my history BA at the time) that people
were WAY overreacting to the threat Disney posed
||It just *feels*
to me like he was ducking the responsibility
issue. I read his quote there as belated lip
service rather than a real admission of fault.
But let's move on. How about Ovitz? If Katzenberg
was given short shrift, if you'll pardon the pun,
then Ovitz was almost ignored, I thought.
was pretty much ignored. And I saw two reasons
for this, one reflecting well on Eisner and one
more cynical. First, Eisner said throughout the
book that he didn't mind what people said within
the company but that nobody does their laundry in
It is my general criticism that at the
end of the book as it got closer to current time,
Eisner simply became a booster for everything,
mostly because it goes against his policy to air
dirty laundry and most of the people were still
with the company as of writing (for this reason,
he probably should have taken his wife's advice
and waited to write this book).
The more cynical
reason I saw for providing little attention to
Ovitz was that Eisner was probably trying to
avoid the need to discuss and justify the golden
||YES! I have
written in my notes here "Eisner is in
Annual Report mode, Eisner as Head Cheerleader."
I agree entirely that the last couple of chapters
read very unconvincingly, and frankly they
However, the several chapters before
them were, in my opinion, the best part of the
book. During those chapters, Eisner stopped
talking about himself and started talking about
the corporate expansion, through home video
releases, synergy, EuroDisney, Broadway, and so
on. These were all very interesting stories.
what really came through in those chapters was
how happy Eisner was with the company before
Frank Wells died. He denies it in the book, but
there really seemed to be a change in his
feelings for the company following Frank's death
and his bypass surgery.
I really wish he had
spent more time specifically discussing how Wells'
death affected management of the company.
The book - and his entire tenure at Disney -
could easily be seen from the perspective of his
relationship with the number two man at the
company: Wells was great, being alone was tough,
Katzenberg would have been untenable, and Ovitz
tracks slightly: what do you make of the title?
It's commercially viable I suppose, but I find it
unrevealing. Which "work" is in
progress? Disney the company or Eisner the man?
And the subtitle is just too vague and full of
buzzwords to mean anything, if you ask me.
|It is a
pretty bland title, but he does return to the
"surviving success" theme many times
throughout the book. He pounded on the idea that
a successful company / division / department will
become increasingly bureaucratic, self-protective,
And what I find interesting
about this point, is that while it is a lesson he
seems to have internalized, it is my sense that
this is exactly what happened at Disney over the
last couple of years. They became so focused on
synergy and cross- promotion of existing products
that they forgot to focus on innovation.
agreed, to both of your points, though the
current status of the company is a Dual Review
for another day, I feel.
My final comment would
have to be a reminder that I did not hate this
book at all, despite all my misgivings. It made
for interesting reading in fact. But I did not
care for Eisner before, and do so even less after
reading the book. If there are readers out there
such as myself with a prejudice against him, they
would be well served to know that this book does
little to assuage their fears.
traits are amplified here, at least in my biased
"business bio" I found Work in
Progress to be surprisingly readable (credit
for which goes to Tony Schwartz, I'm sure). But
except for the early chapters this is almost
purely a business bio.
Once Eisner is out of his
teens, the reader is going to find very little
personal information in this book. Because of
that I found myself evaluating Eisner more as a
businessman than as a person or artist.
have to admit that regardless of what you think
of the man, you must admit that he has been a
fabulous business success story. This book lets
you see how Michael Eisner himself views that
story and if for no other reason was worth the
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Alex and Kevin debate current events and
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