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Is Your Leadership More Blockbuster or Netflix?

Think back to 2004. You want to have a relaxing night in back in the 90s, so you think, “let’s go down to Blockbuster”. You head out, get there about 15 minutes later, and search through the seemingly endless stack of DVD’s and VHS’s. You were looking for the latest hit film, but its spot on the shelf is empty; sold out. Now you’ve got to settle for some second rate bargain basement movie.

Back then, you probably thought this is just the way movie renting will always be. However, then you hear about this new company called Netflix that will send the movies to you. The best part was, they don’t sell out. No wasted trips. In fact, no trips at all. Sounded good, right? However, Blockbuster didn't think so; they just thought customers liked it the way it was. That included you. Back then, Blockbuster made a feeble effort to match this new, young company, but for the most part, they stayed with the old way. Why change when you've got the market cornered? Perhaps it was understandable at the time; Blockbuster might’ve been thinking that no one would want to wait for the movie to come in the mail. Who knows? However, in 2007, Netflix disrupted everything again and took the jump to digital, and began streaming movies and shows.

Just three years later, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy.

Now don’t get me wrong. Those memories of going down to Blockbuster to pick out a movie drip with nostalgia. However, the company made a huge mistake. It wasn't just the mistake of being stuck in the past. It was worse than that - they got comfortable - and it killed them. Can you imagine if they had started their own streaming service? Netflix might’ve never gotten off the ground. Instead of the new Netflix Original Series, it would be Blockbuster’s Bust-Out Series™.

The point is, not only did they miss something huge, even though it was right under their nose, they missed it because they were set in their ways, they became complacent and didn’t see the opportunity of digital streaming. Now I know it’s easy to be critical of them in hindsight, but at the time they probably didn’t even think their industry could be disrupted. How could a massive brand like Blockbuster fall behind when they pretty much owned the entire industry. Which leads me to the question for you...

Are you falling behind?

I ask because there are many industries out there that never considered the effect that the digital era could have on them. Take the taxi business for example. If you told the average cabbie or taxi company owner in 2009 that their main competition in the coming years would be regular people driving their own cars, they would’ve called you crazy. However, here we are, almost ten years later, and Uber and Lyft have experienced nothing but growth. In fact, disruption has become the norm across most industries, and that has dramatically changed the business landscape, and the role of leadership too.

In the recent article in Forbes "The Future of Work Continues To Be Written" there is a powerful quote for leaders:

"A gale force warning to leaders: at the current churn rate, about half of S&P (Standard & Poor) 500 companies will be replaced over the next ten years. The 33-year average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 in 1964 narrowed to 24 years by 2016 and is forecast to shrink to just 12 years by 2027."

This isn't just about digital alone; it is about a different mindset. Of course, there is an important question: 'if you haven’t implemented digital technology into your business, why?' however, deeper down, as a business leader if you don’t think there’s any way it can be done, then you need to ask yourself if that is a fact or a legacy of your limited thinking?

Try telling a former Blockbuster employee that the video rental industry would be killed off in just a matter of years but some newcomer. Of course, hindsight is a powerful thing, but it doesn't take a massive leap of faith to foresee that the digital era is challenging every industry, with new challengers appearing almost daily. So as a leader, you need to explore all options of how your industry could be disrupted, even if the thought of it is frightening.

Leadership is about having a vision, so don't ever put your head in the sand even if it feels safer to do so. Sit down and examine every aspect of your business and figure out what can be disrupted, not just digitally but through different working practices, new approaches to employee engagement and customer experiences. I guarantee there is an opportunity, but you’ll have to be willing to break down the way you think about your own leadership, your business and your industry as a whole. Moreover, if you’re ever feeling resistant to change, just remember Blockbuster!


If you would like to find out how we can support you with any of the topics raised in this blog post, please get in touch at or call on 0800 0293739.

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