Book Review: Working Together
Working Together, by Michael D. Eisner (283 pages)
$10.06 on Amazon, not available on Kindle
Description from Amazon
In business there are always unique individual achievers, but pull down the veil and you’ll often find someone alongside them. Michael Eisner does just that in Working Together. Using his own collaboration with Frank Wells at Disney as a launching point for examining other famously successful partnerships, Eisner offers us an intimate and deeply personal look at some of the most rewarding business partnerships, uncovering what makes them tick and offering unconventional wisdom and unexpected insights. In this essential book for businesspeople everywhere, Eisner shines a light on these startlingly long-lasting and enriching partnerships, weaving together ten separate narratives—from investment gurus to entertainment impresarios, from fashion designers to big-box retailers—into a larger story about the true nature of achievement in life and in business.
Working Together is promoted as providing insight into why famous partnerships work. How did Warren Buffett make so much money? How did Bill Gates end up being so successful and running the biggest philanthropic organization in the world? How did Joe Torre lead the Yankees to so many championships? The answer, according to Michael Eisner (the former head of Disney), is because of the partnerships they are in. The premise of the book is an interesting one and is the reason I picked it up. As I read through Eisner’s book, however, I realized that the book was much less about how all these partnerships found success than about why Eisner thinks he is so successful. If you want to read a book in which Michael Eisner talks to all his rich friends about how awesome Michael Eisner is, I suggest you read Working Together.
More than anything, it seems Eisner is trying to explain how he himself became successful. Instead of taking a long look at the extraordinary advantages he had for himself, he seems content to call up some of his successful friends and talk on a very basic level about what made them successful. Prepare to be wowed by such sage advice as “the most compelling argument for working together [is] happiness.” On multiple occasions he says that when two people work together, 1+1 often adds up to much more than two. Inspirational, I know. My favorite gem, however, is when he says that “You might think CEOs would be the smartest men and women in the world, but-believe me-they are as fallible and capable of being foolish as anyone.” The fact that he can say this without a hint of sarcasm to an American public that is in the middle of one of the greatest recessions in our history thanks in large part to the actions of major CEOs is upsetting to say the least. No one but Michael Eisner thinks all CEO’s are brilliant. What Working Together boils down to is a bunch of rich people going out to lunch and patting each other on the back and noticing how great they are. More infuriating to me than his useless advice was how little weight he seemed to put in the unbelievable luck these partnerships had.
There’s no doubt that individuals such as Bill Gates and Michael Eisner were successful due in part to their hard work and business acumen; however, equally important was the sheer amount of lucky breaks they received. While reading Working Together I couldn’t help but think of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Like Working Together, Outliers is a book trying to explain success, namely the success of the super successful. Both books talk about Gates in detail, but the differences are quite striking. In regard to Gates’s ascension, Eisner states that “a local enterprise” allowed students to “test their machine for free.” After the testing was done, the company “began charging the students for the time they spent on the computer–which became no problem when the group broke the security code and found a way to work for free.” Eisner is pointing out how Gates’s sheer force of will allowed him to become the success he was. Now take a look at Gladwell’s interpretation. “Opportunity number one was that Gates got sent to Lakeside. How many high schools in the world had access to a time-sharing terminal in 1968? Opportunity number two was that the mothers of Lakeside had enough money to pay for the school’s computer fees.” He goes on to list nine opportunities Gates enoyed that other people didn’t. Gladwell’s conclusion here is that “What truly distinguishes [Bill Gates’s] history is not [his] extraordinary talent but [his] extraordinary opportunities.”
I came to the book Working Together by listening to a podcast Eisner did with Bill Simmons. I found the conversation decently interesting, maybe because it focused so much on sports. I do suggest listening to the podcast; however, it should be clear by now that I don’t recommend reading Working Together. I should have known what to expect when I picked up the book, really: Eisner’s name is twice the size of the title. The partner he worked with on the book? His name is written in smaller font than anything else. I’ll give you one guess as to who gets the first quote on the back of book. Yep, Michael Eisner.