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

Mike Rutt May 31, 2023

Part Three: ‘Sunshine the Failure’ and Reflective Practice

In Part Two we looked at the innovation process at Netflix and what Christians who work with young people can learn and take away from their culture of moving forward. Part of the culture of innovation is the idea of taking time to ‘Sunshine the Failure’. It was only given a passing mention is the article, but it is worth a deeper look.

What is ‘Sunshine the Failure’?

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings describes it like this:

“It is critical that your employees are continually hearing about the failed bets of others, so that they are encouraged to take bets (that of course might fail) themselves. You can’t have innovation if you don’t have this. At Netflix we try to shine a bright light on every failed bet. We encourage employees to write open memos explaining candidly what happened, followed by a description of the lessons leant….When you sunshine your failed bets, everyone wins. You win because people learn that they can trust you to tell the truth and to take responsibility for your actions. The team wins because everyone learn from the lessons that came out of the project. And the company wins because everyone sees clearly that failed bets are an inherent part of the innovation success wheel. We shouldn’t be afraid of our failures. We should embrace them.”  (No Rules Rules p.156-7) 

I don’t know about you but I more used to trying to hide my failure, to cover up when something hasn’t worked, to be unwaveringly positive about events and ministry (but I’m very good at publicising the good things). Why? Because I was fearful (there’s that fear word again – more on that in Part One). I was fearful about what my employers would say. I was fearful about what the congregation would say. And there was never a chance of me tweeting my failures because I was fearful of what #ywchat would say (or not say and judge behind their iPhones).

Fear causes us to bury the gold and stick to the status quo. Fear causes us to not risk making mistakes. Fear causes us to hide our failures because we are worried what people will say.

A former football coach of mine used to talk about playing ‘football for the brave’. I’ve got to admit that none of us really knew what he was on about – we definitely used to humour him. But, I now think that I understand what he was talking about. If you play football with a fear of making a mistake you’re going to play bad football. Play within yourself. Play dull football. Play uncreative football. Play risk free football. You’re going to bury the gold. Playing brave football involves taking risks, trying new things and highlighting and learning from your mistakes.

Professional footballers spend hours of their week having their performance analysed (and not just from the TV presenters on a Saturday night. They have their mistakes highlighted to them by a team of analysts and thinking what and how they could improved and being coached into improved performance.

Reviewing performance, embracing failure, and learning from our mistakes. ‘Sunshine the Failure’. It sounds like pretty decent reflective practice to me.

But what would it look like in an individual ministry? Let’s take each of Reed’s points in his explanation and think what it could look like.


1. Explain Candidly What Happened

An opportunity to look back and reflect on what happened right from the beginning. From idea birthing to implementation and completion. Why did you decide to run the event. How did you plan it? How did you recruit the volunteers? Did you train or give instructions to the volunteers? How was the event organised? What happened in the planning of the event? How many young people did you expect to attend? What happened on the day?


2. What lessons have you learnt?

Ultimately you are asking yourself how are you going to grow from this experience. What you would do differently next time? Where did things go wrong? What would you change?

This is hard and difficult work. It also isn’t easy to do on your own. A coach or decent line manager you trust can help. This is why the CONCRETE Academy Fellowship has monthly coaching as a key component of it (if you’d like to start meeting with a coach it is something CONCRETE can help with.)

What I find the most fascinating, or maybe the most appealing, thing about ‘Sunshine the Failure’ is the impact it has within the entire organisation. Reed Hastings talked about individuals benefiting, teams benefitting and the company.

What would happen if Christians who work with young people got better at thinking about their mistakes – When no one showed up to the big event. When the talk was screwed up. When they ordered the wrong amount of pizza. (Other youth ministry stereotypes are available!)

Or a step beyond that – what would happen if Christians who work with young people got better that analysing what went wrong and thinking about lessons learnt for the next time?

Or a step further – what would happen if they then shared their learning with the other people on the youth ministry or project them, or the church staff team.

But what would happen if we ‘Sunshine the Failure’ and share it wider with other Christians who work with young people.

What if all of us started to ‘Sunshine the Failure’.

We, the individual would benefit.

The church or organisation would benefit.

Youth Ministry would benefit.

And maybe, just maybe, we’d stop burying the gold.

Maybe, just maybe, we’d start ‘doing’ youth ministry for the brave – we’d stop ministering out of fear and move to a place of abundance.

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