No Rules Rules
This article is a brief take on my learnings from the book No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention. Before diving deep into Netflix’s culture and looking at how they supported no rules, let’s take a moment to think about what is a rule? and why do we have them in our daily life? So, a simple google definition says that a rule is nothing but a set of regulations which govern an individual’s conduct in a particular area of activity. In simple words, it tells a person what to do and what not to do at a particular place or activity. It can be as small as washing your hands before you eat, to even big rules governing our life and personality. Before diving deep into this debate, I’d like to ask you which side you’re on, whether we should be having rules or there should be just no rules in the society. Whatever side you pick, by this article I would want to help you take a contrarian perspective on it.
This article is written with the assumption that the majority of us would probably be inclined towards having no/less rules imposed on them. Who the hell likes rules anyway, or rules are just meant to be broken. But why do we have rules? Why does every government, society, every house function on some ground rules? And the even bigger question is, if most of the people do not like to be ruled, why is it still rare for people to break rules.
Let’s imagine a world with no rules whatsoever. You could take a piss over a holy statue, or stop paying your taxes and loot a bank rather than waiting for your salary to arrive. Now even if most of us would argue to not be irrational, the chances of these things happening somewhere by someone are pretty high. And this can lead to all of us in a chaotic situation, and so rules are necessary.
Now on the contrary imagine a world full of rules, I guess that’s what it feels like to live in one of our neighboring countries (C****)😛. A world full of rules everywhere. Wouldn’t it curb freedom altogether, where people are treated as machines, with no value to an individual’s hopes, dreams and identity. So, if both rules and no rules are dangerous choices to have, how do people draw the line on what rules should be there and how much freedom are people owed.
This creates the necessity of having an authoritative figure who can be voted, elected by masses like a government or it can even be an individual’s choice like an elderly figure that they follow, or an influencer whom they would trust. We generally tend to trust people who have achieved more than us, or lived more than us, so we can rely on their experience of life and make better choices for ourselves. Of Course choosing the right mentor, the right person to follow/learn from is essential, but is it enough? Does that solve all the problems? Or can it happen that the right set of people, having good intentions to guide you correctly still give you wrong advice. If you believe otherwise, here’s some scientific evidence. The 5 monkeys experiment is proof of how in an ever changing world even if you follow the right people and learn from them, it can lead you to wrong choices, or hinder your growth.
This book, No Rules Rules as I perceive it, is a book for Thinking How to Think, or it’s a book on parenting, to guide parents who always seem to struggle with creating the right rules for their kids. Those issues I believe go much deeper than a comparison of your workplace with Netflix’s.
The book primarily talks about how Netflix was able to weed out all rules from its system, one rule at a time. It then goes on to explain how they made people learn to work without any rules. Like a world with no rules, and still no chaos. A place where you’re free to do anything you please, and yet everyone behaves responsibly for the collective good. Imagine a world where you’re no longer required to work for money, and there’s plenty of free food and good wifi.
A heavenly place where you could just rest or play for as long as you like, that must be what we dream to do in heaven. Would you still go to work for the collective good, because we’re yet to discover what lies beyond our own galaxy and we’re yet to create life on Mars or find out if Aliens exist.
The way we currently live in, isn’t it almost diametrically opposite to this heaven. Where the world runs efficiently, only because there are strict rules to be followed, and punishments if you meander. Like if you don’t work, you’d get fired. If you don’t let other people have their fundamental rights, you could be sued (except if the goons are from the ruling party maybe 😛 ). So how does Netflix, which is a sufficiently large company, without brainwashing people’s brains (like you know who 😄) was able to implement the No Rules policy.
The first rule that Netflix removed was “Travel Policies”. What it means is, all Netflix employees would now be eligible to travel business class, have Spas for fun, book luxury 7 star hotels, and use their favorite cars when traveling for company work. If I were them, I’d definitely get a Limo as my Uber every single time. Now imagine a company having 23 office locations, in over 18 countries, with ~10k employees showering such money.
From my first hand experience, at one of the companies I worked with, we did not have any documented rules on travel policies. 2 months into the job, we were traveling for a workshop, and a colleague of mine booked herself a room costing ~20k per day, for the week we were required to stay. When she told me this my middle class mindset quickly calculated numbers: 20k*7, and then flights, food, the cost would easily explode to 2–4 lakhs per person. We then decided to check with the HR once, and her reaction was somewhere between uncomfortable and shocking, and she hastily sent a mail clearly stating expense limits on travel, tickets etc.
So how did Netflix implement this in principle? At Netflix, rather than commanding people with rules, the company trusted people enough to make their decisions regarding their expenses with one important motto — ‘Spend money as if It were your own’. It changed 2 things fundamentally for the company:
- A rule might give you a limit on how much you can spend, but a responsibility made sure people were spending each penny wisely. So if earlier the limit on travel was say 400$ for a CEO and 100$ for an intern, no rules made every employee feel the same status and respect.
- When people are trusted rather than limited by rules, Netflix saw a decline in spend, as every employee spent each dollar frugally rather than trying to max out on their expense limits.
Several other rules like No Approvals for any decision making, No pleasing your boss, and 100% transparency from top to bottom were implemented, each giving their employees extreme levels of freedom and imbibing trust to behave responsibly.
Not only for employers, this book in general can be an excellent guide on how to lead people with trust and confidence. Be it as a parent, trying to form good rules for their children, or a mentor, a friend, leading with trust is a must.
Another great insight I had from the book is about Feedbacks. Do you recall the last time you had to give critical feedback to your boss, or parents, or anyone above you in rank/age, the people whom you follow and look up to. Many of us might not have dared to pull this stunt ever. Or even when we do show this courage, there is a lot of nervousness, self-doubts, in my case, rehearsal of every word no less than 10 times in my mind before I actually say it. It feels like treading on needles, one wrong move and it’ll cut your feet slice open.
It’s a common saying that feedback is the breakfast of champions, but it’s so hard to give critical feedback especially if the other person is senior to you. But wouldn’t your superiors be better bosses if they directly hear your critical feedback and work on it? The book gives a step by step guide of how Netflix created a culture of constructive criticism. They made it every person’s responsibility to give timely feedback to anyone and everyone as long as the intent is positive, and there is an actionable item to work upon. For e.g. rather than waiting to write bad reviews for a manager who embarrassed you in a meeting, Netflix would urge you to directly talk to them immediately after the meeting, explaining how you felt embarrassed and how they can change their ways of dealing with such situations in future. This could even be complemented by some good materials to guide them in a proper and timely manner. This one dialogue can change the course of communication from ranting to giving actionable insights that people can then use to make themselves better. This book showed multiple examples of people doing it openly, across different levels of their organization.
Similarly Netflix weeded out a lot of different rules and I highly urge you to read this book and try to apply the lessons in your daily life.
Please tap on some claps if you really like the article, and comment below if you’d like me to do more of such book summaries and my learnings from them. PS critical feedback is always welcomed here.