Lessons from Netflix: Adapt or Fail


It has been a difficult month for Netflix.

First, Netflix has led a precipitous decline in tech stocks, with double-digit losses in value amidst a global market downturn.

Next, Netflix failed in its bid to secure the rights to a new show featuring the former hosts of Top Gear, the incredibly popular BBC program that was reputed to be the most-watched show on the planet. The hosts, who left the show earlier this year over concerns about their personal behavior, signed a deal with rival Amazon.

Under normal circumstances, you could look at a company suffering two big setbacks like this and conclude that it was in very big trouble. Of course, Netflix isn’t your normal company.

If we know anything about Netflix, it’s that this company has never met a challenge it couldn’t conquer. In fact, Netflix has a robust history of bouncing back from pretty significant setbacks by reinventing its business model and becoming more successful in the process.

The company started out in the late 1990s as a direct competitor to DVD rental chains like Blockbuster. Netflix offered subscribers an opportunity to receive and return DVDs by mail service. Its big competitive advantage with the bricks-and-mortar stores was that rental and late fees were much lower.

DVD fans certainly loved Netflix’s original business plan; by 2009, Netflix had more than 10 million subscribers and had delivered more than one billion DVDs. However, realizing that the future of home entertainment was changing, Netflix shifted directions and invested heavily in online video streaming.

Netflix became a sensation, spawning numerous competitors spun off from some of the tech world’s biggest companies. Market analysts speculated that with all that competition, Netflix would cease to be the dominant video streaming service.

However, Netflix once again exceeded expectations by tweaking its business plan and creating its own content. Some of those shows have gone on to become commercial as well as critical successes.

Other streaming services are now heavily invested in creating original content, once again causing some observers to suggest that Netflix is unlikely to dominate the video streaming world for much longer. Perhaps, but this is a company that has demonstrated, over and over again, a culture that allows it to adapt.

The Netflix story is one of organizational culture, but there are many lessons here for the individual.

Far too many people in the working world are finding out on a daily basis that what worked for them in the past isn’t going to work for them in the future. In many instances, this arrives as a shocking realization along with a pink slip and a severance package.

Truly successful people know that, like Netflix, change is the constant in the business world, and that the truly successful people are the ones that are able to adapt. Those who cannot anticipate change, and adapt to that new reality, get left behind.

How can you adapt to change? You need to be in a constant state of awareness about what is happening to your company, your industry and the macro forces of change blowing through the broader world. You need to be a voracious consumer of information, and use that information to help you anticipate the future and your place in it.

Once you have taken the time to anticipate the future, you need a commitment to act. If you fear being out in front of the curve, or need to see others acting before you can muster the resolve to join in, then you will get left behind more often than not.

Learn from Netflix, and other forward-thinking organizations. Do not wait for change to come; anticipate change, and adapt.

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