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

Mike Rutt March 14, 2023

Part Two: Netflix, Innovation and Moving Forward

In Part One we looked at how we can apply some of the ‘Netflix culture’ to youth ministry. In Part Two we’re going to look at Netflix and innovation.

Do you view youth ministry as creative work? Within your context are you able to flex your creative muscles on a regular basis? Does fear stop you from being creative?

There’s that word again – FEAR.

Fear seems to becoming a bit of a CONCRETE buzz word. We’re regularly talking about how Christians working with young people can move away from fear and embrace freedom and abundance.

Freedom to be creative.

Freedom to try and succeed, to innovate and to fail.

Freedom to allow space to experience the transcendence reality of God in their lives.

Freedom to believe that Christians working with young people have some job security. To believe their job approval isn’t entirely linked to how many young people who turn up in the pews on any given Sunday.

Working with young people IS creative work and creative work requires a certain amount of freedom.

Netflix recognises this, and so doesn’t want their employees to be fearful of not receiving their bonus pay because they didn’t hit their targets. Instead they pay top of market value for their staff and don’t offer incentive related pay. They realised that in order for their employees to be creative they had to release them from that fear.


“Creative work requires that your mind feel a level of freedom. If part of what you focus on is whether or not your performance will get you that big check (sic), you are not in the cognitive space where the best ideas and most innovative ideas reside. You do worse”.  (No Rules Rules p.84)


Read that again.


If you are operating from a place of fear and not freedom you are not in the cognitive space where the best ideas and most innovative ideas reside.

Now, unfortunately we’re not in a position where we have to worry about getting that big cheque – that’s a topic for another day(!) – but, as we discussed in the previous part, we are in positions where we are regularly operating from a place fear and so not in the cognitive space to be creative in ministry.

Ultimately, fear means at best standing still, and at worse, moving backwards.

So, released from that fear, how do Netflix employees move the company forward, how do they innovate?


CEO Reed Hastings has this reflection; “We don’t have innovation Fridays, or innovation banners. The difference is the decision-making freedom we provide. If your employees are excellent and you give them the freedom to implement the bright ideas they believe in, innovation will happen…We are in a creative market. Our big threat in the long run is not making a mistake, it’s lack of innovation” (No Rules Rules p. 136)


Decision making freedom leads to innovation.

Think about your context – do you feel like you have the freedom to make decisions about your ministry. Do you have the freedom to implement the ideas you believe in.

One of the first questions we ask our participants in the Academy Fellowship (applications for the 2022-2023 Cohort are open!) is whether or not they have permission to make decisions and implement ideas, and if they don’t, what can they do to change that.

Too often we need to seek permission to implement, to hand-hold through the decision process, and eventually give up, stick to the status quo, and stay stuck.

Reed Hastings goes on to say, “Our risk is failing to come up with creative ideas for how to entertain our customers, and therefore becoming irrelevant”  (No Rules Rules p.136)

In our work with young people our risk is not failing to entertain – that would be a fear problem! But we might want to say….

Our risk is failing to come up with creative ideas for how to engage young people, failing to offer them moments of transcendence that go beyond the secularity of their lives, failing to offer them a glimpse of something bigger than themselves, and therefore becoming irrelevant.

Time for the million dollar question…How does innovation happen at Netflix?

The answer – The Netflix Innovation Cycle.

If an employee has an idea that they’re passionate about, that they are invested in, that they want to put their chips on (see Part One for the reference), they do the following:


STEP ONE: Farm for dissent, or socialise the idea.

STEP TWO: For a big idea, test it out.

STEP THREE: As the informed captain, make your bet.

STEP FOUR: If it succeeds, celebrate. If it fails, sunshine it. (No Rules Rules p.140)


They make it sound simple, don’t they!?


Step One involves getting others opinions. For Netflix this means other staff members, but for those of us working with young people it might be some of our volunteers, other members of church staff, young people, or even better all three.

Opinions are gather in 3 ways, with the size of the idea or initiate inviting greater or less feedback.


Either “you create a shared memo explaining the idea and invite colleagues for input. They will then leave comments electronically in the margin of your document” (No Rules Rule p.142); or you “distribute a shared spreadsheet asking people to rate an idea on a scale of -10 to +10 with their explanation and comments” (No Rules Rules p.142-3); or you take the temperature of the room in a meeting to “stress test” (No Rules Rules p.144) your thinking.


Step Two involves testing the idea. Run a pilot. Review the idea, see what works and what doesn’t. Make changes, adapt the idea.


This leads nicely to Step Three. Make your bet. Make the decision. Implement or cut.


Step Four involves celebration or learning. If the initiative, the innovation works, celebrate it. If it does reflect, and learn from then process. Make sure it isn’t a waste. Netflix suggest a three-part response when projects fail.

  1. Ask what learning came from the project.
  2. Don’t make a big deal about it.
  3. Sunshine the failure. (No Rules Rules p.153)

Sunshining the failure involves admitting when something didn’t work, reviewing and analysing why it didn’t work, and explaining what you would do differently next time.

What difference would this kind of thinking make to your ministry?

What would you do and implement if you weren’t afraid of failure?

Would you like help and support through the process? If you would then we can help you out. You could with sign up for our Fellowship Programme or some innovation coaching. Get in touch for more details.

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