How Netflix Built an Innovative Culture by Gibson Biddle

A fish swims along, passes another fish and shouts: “How’s the water?” The other fish looks at him and asks: “What the heck is water?”

This story illustrates how difficult it is to describe something we navigate every day, that defines what is possible, and in certain cases, enables us to do the impossible.

In this talk, I do my best to describe what culture is and why it is so important as companies grow. I also introduce the “DEL” model, a tool to “Define, Edit, and Live” your culture on an ongoing basis.

Culture expresses a company’s shared beliefs, values, and principles. A well-defined culture, unique to your company’s mission and stage:

    • Helps companies to assess “best fit” employees (and vice versa).
    • Clarifies who companies should hire, fire, and promote, and
    • Enables companies to successfully navigate large industry shifts.

While most companies add process and rules as they grow, culture helps employees to make great decisions without talking to one another. If executed well, culture is an antidote to talent-sucking, mind-numbing rules and process.

I started at Netflix in 2005 and in 2010, went to my next startup, Chegg. In this talk I give an insider view on the process Netflix went through to define its culture and the mechanisms it created to make its “culture deck” meaningful. (The deck has now been shared three million times.) Then I examine three “do nothing, reprimand, or fire?” cases to illustrate how culture can be fairly hard-ass – not the touchy-feely topic that most people expect.

Netflix’s Success

Netflix’s success can be attributed to three things: its focus on strategy to set context, persistent investment in consumer science, and a disciplined approach to defining, editing and living its culture. At Netflix, culture enabled wonderfully talented employees to navigate step-function innovation from DVDs-by-mail, to streaming, and finally to a worldwide audience.

Today, in its latest incarnation, Netflix competes head-to-head with HBO as an original content creator. That a DVD-by-mail company can transform itself to win 44 Emmys in 2018 (and tie with HBO for the most Emmys) is a shining example of how culture enables a company to do the seemingly impossible.

I hope you enjoy the video.

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