I am currently listening to the audiobook “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.
I’m only at the beginning but already it has provoked some thought. They argue that “design thinking” can be applied to one’s life just as it can be applied to goods and services.
One idea that was particularly resonant was that designers “don’t think their way forward, (they) build their way forward”. I find this premise useful because it is a call to action. There is a tendency in individuals and organizations to plan rather than experiment. This is a call to identify a vector and pursue it knowing that the skills developed and the new vista provided will bring you closer to the next goal.
For some reason this brought to mind Netflix. Netflix was founded in 1997, as a DVD rental company with terms and due dates similar to brick-and-mortar rental establishments like Blockbuster. This later morphed into a monthly fee-based service where members could queue up movies that would be sent out as previous movies were returned.
As early as 2000, long before the capability was available, the company began plans to stream videos to members’ homes. Nevertheless, during those intervening years Netflix built their way forward:
- forging connections with movie and television studios
- developing a large customer base
- building the software and data needed to make video recommendations
All three of these ingredients would give Netflix a commanding lead in streaming video.
Looked at from the 40 Principles viewpoint, Netflix was examining Principle 24 – Intermediary. Whereas the postal service was the intermediary in the beginning, shuttling DVDs to and from its customers, now the internet was the intermediary, shuttling 1s and 0s.
Building their way forward
Looked at this way, what core competencies does your company have and what processes can be reframed as intermediary? Netflix looked like a DVD rental company, but really it is an entertainment company – DVDs were just the intermediary.
Now Netflix is building its way forward from its current perch as the dominant TV and movie streaming company into a new role of content producer. Again, one can see movie and TV show license distribution as intermediary. Here Netflix is dis-intermediating and working directly with content producers. Principle 2 – Taking Out
In 1997, the founders of Netflix could have conceived of a streaming company and despaired that the technology was not available at the time, and shelved the idea. Instead, they did what could be done and built their way forward, seizing opportunities along the way.