I have great admiration for Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix. Part of the reason is that Netflix is transforming how we watch and enjoy movies. I can watch all manner of films and TV whenever I want. There is an excellent collection of foreign movies as well, and especially Israeli cinema, to be found there. And now with the advent of streaming I can watch these films wherever I want.
Still that is not the primary reason why I like Hastings. It is instead how he dealt with Qwikster. You may recall that in 2011 Netflix proposed dividing the company in two. Netflix would offer streaming and the new Qwikster would become the DVD by mail service. Hastings also advocated raising the price for these services. Thousands of angry emails poured in to the corporate offices. Nearly 800,000 subscribers dropped Netflix in the fourth quarter of 2011 alone. The stock price dropped from a high of $299 to $53.
So what did Reed Hastings do? He publicly admitted his mistake. He apologized. He changed course. I am sure he had advisors who counseled him against this. I am sure there was at least one expert who suggested that the CEO should never publicly confess his wrongs and admit such an error. A CEO should always exude confidence, right or wrong, they perhaps said. That is not what Hastings did. That is why I admire him. Netflix has rebounded and is now on the road to a successful year. Although it has not regained its original stature, the lesson remains the same. Thus the Talmud counsels: “In a place where the repentant sinner stands even the wholly righteous cannot stand.”
You should love a person who admits their mistakes. And that about sums up Yom Kippur. People too often think that Yom Kippur is about fasting and denial. That is but a means to an end. The intention of the fast is that we are to look away from our desires and look instead at what we might repair and change. It begins with “I’m sorry.” It starts with admitting our mistakes. The goal of this High Holiday is to say “I messed up” and return to basics.
When Reed Hastings was asked what advice he might offer to others he said, “Don’t get distracted by the shiny object. And if a crisis comes, execute on the fundamentals.”
No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. The greater crisis comes when not admitting wrongs, when not offering an apology. Yom Kippur is about our return to the fundamentals of admitting our mistakes and correcting our wrongs. Let us learn this lesson well and be confident in our ability to change rather than holding fast to some fanciful vision of perfection.