What Can We Learn From Netflix In Our Work With Young People? (Part One)

by Mike Rutt October 9, 2021 A

Applying the Netflix Culture

In their 2020 book, ‘No Rules Rues: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention’, (https://amzn.to/3FyDZkM) Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings, and Erin Mayer from INSEAD Business School, guide readers through the ‘Netflix culture’ and look at the impact the culture has on innovation and the ongoing success of Netflix.

 

Many of the practices employed by Netflix might shock people – no holiday allowance; few, if any systems and processes; the swift replacement of ‘average’ employees. 

 

But what, if anything, can Christians working with young people learn from the ‘Netflix culture’ and how might we practically apply our learning? 

 

A Move from Fear to Freedom

In the book a Netflix employee described the culture of innovation in the organisation like this….

 

“When I started at Netflix, Jack explained to me that I should consider I’d been handed a stack of chips. I could place them on whatever bets I believed in. I’d need to work hard and think carefully to ensure I made the best bets I could, and he’d show me how. Some bets would fail, and some would succeed. My performance would ultimately be judged, not on whether any individual bet failed, but on my overall ability to use those chips to move the business forward. Jack made it clear that at Netflix you don’t lose your job because you make a bet that doesn’t work out. Instead you lose your job for not using your chips to make big things happen or for showing consistently poor judgment over time.” (No Rules Rules p.139)

 

Sound familiar? It probably should to Christians working with young people!

 

The culture of innovation and development at Netflix is similar, well in fact, almost identical, to a parable that Jesus told, retold in Matthew 25. It’s a parable commonly described as the parable of the talents or the parable of the bags of gold. 

 

In it a wealthy man calls his servants to him and entrusts them with bags of gold. To the first he gives five, to the second two, and to the third he give just one. The man who he gave five bags of gold puts his money to work and earns 5 more. The second man does the same and gains two more. The third, however, buries his gold, scared of losing his master’s wealth.  

 

Too often, I believe, we our bound by fear. Fear about the response of the congregation and our line managers if something new goes wrong. Fear that people won’t understand what we are trying to achieve. Fear that not enough young people are going to show up. Fear causes us to bury the gold, to stick to the ‘same old sh*t’ – even though we know deep down it isn’t working, and put up with the status quo. 

 

How is it that Netflix embodies the parable more than the church does?! What would it look like in your context if you moved away from fear and embraced a freedom to innovate and experiment? What if we were expected and encouraged to try new things?

 

Imagine the possibilities…

 

No, really, stop reading for a minute….

 

Pick up a pen, and imagine and dream – tap into your God-given prophetic imagination. 

 

(We’ll look in part two about the Netflix model of innovation)

 

Creating a Culture of Candid and Constant Feedback

 

How many times have you been in a meeting and your boss (or another colleague) says something that you disagree with or you’ve run a session for young people and one of the volunteers who has given up their evening to facilitate the session has gone completely off point? You have that sinking feeling where you wonder, ‘should I say something?’, but quickly the moment passes, and it’s too late to speak out. If you’re anything like me you’ve probably experienced this feeling many times, and chosen to keep quiet for any number of reasons.

 

At Netflix, theses reasons are irrelevant. At Netflix, candour is the norm. In fact, it’s ‘tantamount to  being disloyal to the company if you fail to speak up when you disagree with a colleague or have feedback that could be helpful’ (No Rules Rules p.18)

 

We all hate receiving criticism – often it creates feelings of self-doubt, frustrations and a vulnerability many of us are uncomfortable with. If we know that it impacts us in that way, we want to avoid others experiencing those feelings and avoid the conflict created by criticism. However, there’s a huge range of research that we do actually understand the value of hearing the truth – even when its negative. In a 2014 following feedback from almost 1,000 people, the consulting firm Zenger Folkman found that ‘despite the blissful benefits of praise, by a roughly  three-to-one margin, people believe that corrective feedback does more to improve their performance than positive feedback’. (No Rules Rules p.21)

 

How often do we neglect to properly reflect on our practice? How often do we neglect to give volunteers feedback? How often do we avoid receiving feedback? Doing all of these things make us better. They make our teams better. They make our work with young people better. 

 

As we continue on our journey to some sort of normality, what parts of the Netflix culture could you implement in your ministry?

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