Silicon Values: Netflix and the Rise of Results over Hard Work


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A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to an episode (647: Hard Work is Irrelevant) on NPR's podcast Planet Money about the phoenix-like life of Netflix and why it persevered over the years. While the story of Netflix was interesting, the overarching theme of the episode is what stuck with me — the idea that the amount of work that you do is secondary to the results.

This idea was developed as a model for the work done in Netflix, which soon grew to many other companies in Silicon Valley. For any given week, it doesn't matter how long and hard you work, as long as you finish the work that was assigned for that week. This means that if you work at one of these companies, that you wouldn't have to work for all 8 hours in the day, or if you finish your work by Wednesday, that you could take the rest of the week off.

On first glance, this seems like an attractive proposition, until you realize that not only are many of the tasks difficult, but the model has little room for forgiveness. There are seldom second chances for substandard work in a place like Netflix, a business that has been at the brink of changing the way we think of television and entertainment.

Nonetheless, let's consider the potentials of this model for application into the student/college life. And when you think about it, our GPAs, our extracurricular activities — things that go onto the resumes that we hand employers — already set us up for this way of thinking.

It shouldn't be too hard, in theory, to apply this to our study habits or our jobs. Does studying for four hours versus two for your midterm really make a difference, provided you cover the same amount of work in those two hours? Think of all of the time that you could have to spend on things that you actually want to do! If your essay is due by Friday, finish it tonight, and don't worry about it on Thursday!

Of course, the main reason why this model seems so easy, yet (as many students and workers can attest to) is hard to implement is because we're humans. We face not only the temptations of procrastination, but we are also affected by things like exhaustion and family lives, making it harder to complete the work we have to do.

Make no mistake, this notion (of results over amount of work) is the future — not only because time is becoming increasingly precious as we head into a more-globalized society, but because our ideas of hard work are evolving. In an agrarian industry, hard work (tending to the fields, menial labor) for longer periods of time directly correlated with better yields. But in a society that is competing globally and emphasis is put on the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), efficiency is a priority over all else. And as a result, perhaps those days of being paid by the hour (and with that, the 9 to 5, five days a week work model) are being phased out in favor of being paid when the job's done.

Imagine what that would do to firms that are involved in law, architecture, home improvement and psychiatry (all firms that charge clients by the hour). How would you feel if you could pay a psychiatrist his/her fees when your mental illness is cured, rather than paying for weekly sessions? Would the debate of minimum wage be solved by using this model? Imagine what this model would do our primary education system. 

On the one hand, students would probably have less homework, but on the other hand, they would probably have more tests and projects to measure their success. While many students would probably groan at the thought of more tests, consider that graded homework is a waste of time for students that understand the topic being taught, and more tests would allow students to accurately see what they are struggling with.

It is possible that many of our future debates in education and the workforce would be centered around this topic. Perhaps even our societal values might change as a result. These are all interesting thoughts and questions, and we may see many of these shifts in our lifetimes. And to think that all of this has been started by a company that is involved in movies and television…

I’d like to know your thoughts on this topic.


Siddhesh Dabholkar

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