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BOOK REVIEW

The tangled ties between creativity and profit

In ''Cult of the Mouse," former Walt Disney Co. department head Henry Caroselli argues that corporate America has been taken over by an eighth dwarf: ''Greedy."

Innovative works like ''Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" have given way to sequels, remakes, and other sure bets to boost the bottom line, he says. As chief executive salaries have doubled and tripled, money for creative endeavors such as research and development has dried up. Companies in which top salaries are tied to stock options, he says, are increasingly putting shareholders ahead of customers.

Part exposé, part how-to, ''Cult of the Mouse" combines criticism of the corporate sector with advice on how to boost creativity. The book abounds with catchy phrases and wordplay reflecting the author's background in advertising. The author's style is both the book's greatest asset and its biggest drawback. At its best, the book shines with wit and insight. At its worst, it disintegrates into empty sloganeering.

In his preface, Caroselli, a former director of creative services at Disneyland, implores readers to approach the book with an open mind. He admits it lacks the authoritative details of a hard-hitting exposé and the analytical discourse of an academic work but offers it up as a work for people who love ideas.

For someone who so enthusiastically writes about his own love of ideas, Caroselli often paints the world in black and white. Walt Disney himself is the hero in the white hat, the artist who takes risks, gambles the farm, puts money back into the business, and understands the freedom creative types need. Disney's current chief executive, Michael Eisner, on the other hand, is the villain who plays it safe, micromanages, outsources, and surrounds himself with sycophants.

Caroselli is at his most convincing when he uses his own experiences to show how fear and greed conspire against creativity. When he first started working at Disney, he had easy access to Eisner. Six years later, however, everything was done by committee. He had to wade through layers of bureaucracy before he could meet with the boss.

Caroselli recommends a return to the innovative thinking Walt Disney made famous. He profiles a variety of innovators, including the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Milton Hershey, and the Beatles, showing how some became successful by embracing new technology, others by finding an untapped market or by appealing to universal themes and emotions.

In subsequent chapters, however, the author sometimes fails to provide concrete examples to back up his opinions. In one section, for instance, Caroselli lists types of Idea Killers, arguing that someone who wears an Armani suit must be a wannabe because real creative types are too busy to worry about attire.

Such overbroad categories encourage a counterproductive us-versus-them kind of thinking. The author's tips for fostering creativity -- for example, take a different route home from work each day, become a people watcher -- also leave much to be desired.

Still, the book presents a provocative insider's view of how runaway profits are affecting the creative process. Caroselli's wake-up call to corporate America is anything but Mickey Mouse.

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