Book Review: No Rules Rules

The book that should be on every leader’s holiday reading list is No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention. Once you start reading, it won’t even stay closed long enough for you to claim it’s “on your bedside table”. The prose is digestible and compelling, making it an easy read. But the content is what will have you hooked. How has Netflix become the powerhouse it is, with a share price over $500, 195 million subscribers and presence in pretty much every country across the globe?

Contrary to snarky market comments, Netflix was doing well even before we all had to shelter in place with little more to entertain us than internet streaming. The short answer is “its CULTURE”. The underlying philosophy at Netflix is “people over process”, and this is more than just a vague mission statement on the website that gets ignored in practice. The book, co-written by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and INSEAD Professor Erin Meyer, alternates between anecdotes of how the company’s values play out in real life and broader business context (and some sneaky fact-checking of Reed’s narrative with Erin’s 200+ interviews with Netflix employees).

There are brilliant catchphrases and buzzwords that will jump out at you, prompting you to dog-ear the pages or make some pencil notes in the margin – “no brilliant jerks”, “freedom and responsibility”, “context not control” and “informed captains” immediately come to mind. Each chapter has a neat summary of the nine core principles that embody the Netflix culture, making it more accessible and, potentially, achievable.

However, there is a fair amount of self-satisfied navel-gazing in the commentary, so don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an easy “How-To Guide” to take your business stratospheric. The harsh reality is that most of what works for Netflix is unlikely to work for the average company – until you’re willing to establish talent density (creating a workforce of only high performers, then basically pricing them out of the market and parting ways with people whom you wouldn’t fight to keep on your team); and until you can remove the process controls like expense policies, leave booking and decision-making approvals), you’re not going to run the next Fortune 500 wunderkind.

However, there is plenty to take away here that will serve your business well e.g. anyone on your team should be able to come to a team leader and give candid feedback about an idea, you should never seek to please your boss but only to advance the company, micro-managers (these days, nano-managers) stifle creativity and innovation.

So, if you’re wanting to shake things up in the new year, this is where you should start. Either that, or go the way of Blockbuster, which turned down the chance to buy Netflix for a mere $50m…