What if a video rental business were run like a health club?

NetflixWeightlifterThe rise of a number of today’s top tech firms—Foursquare, Airbnb, Pandora internet radio—can be traced to a “Why doesn’t somebody …” or “What if we were to…” question, in some cases inspired by the founder’s personal experience.

One such example, which has become a modern classic business story, is the origin of the Netflix video rental service. The man who would go on to start the company, Reed Hastings, was reacting to one of those frustrating everyday experiences we’ve all had. Hastings had been lax in returning some movies rented from a Blockbuster Video store and by the time he got around to it, the late charges were exorbitant. A frustrated Hastings wondered, Why should I have to pay these fees? (he has admitted that another question on his mind at the time was, How am I going explain this charge to my wife?).

Surely, others have been similarly outraged by late fees. But Hastings decided to do something about it, which led to a subsequent question: What if a video rental business were run like a health club? He then set about figuring out how to design a video rental model that had monthly membership, like a health club, with no late fees. (Years later, Hastings would question whether Netflix could and should expand its model: Why are we only renting the films and shows? What if we made them, too?)

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About the Author

Innovation expert and questionologist Warren Berger has studied hundreds of the world’s foremost innovators, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers to learn how they ask questions, generate original ideas, and solve problems. He is the author or co-author of 12 books, including his three books on questioning: A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas; its follow-up THE BOOK OF BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead; and BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS IN THE CLASSROOM: Transforming Classrooms Into Cultures of Curiosity and Inquiry. Warren’s writing has appeared in Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, and he writes the “Questionologist” blog for Psychology Today. He lives in Mount Kisco, New York. Follow him on Twitter at @GlimmerGuy and subscribe to his blog posts

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