How to Not Be a Blockbuster

Posted 09.24.2010

Blockbuster The New York Times reports that Blockbuster Video, with a billion dollars in debts it can't pay, is filing for bankruptcy. What a great case study in how an organization can go from king of the mountain to yesterday's news. It doesn't take long these days.

When my family moved to the DC area in 1999, the neighborhood Blockbuster store was a regular destination for the four of us on Friday nights. We'd spend an hour looking at the racks and racks of VHS tapes. Seemed like the ones we really wanted were usually checked out. 

Blockbuster was fun, but the late fees drove us crazy. We could never get the movies back on time and I regularly ended up spending 20 or 25 bucks in fees the next time we rented a movie. When Netflix came along with their monthly fee, keep the movie as long as you want approach, we were happy to sign up for nine dollars a month because we were coming out ahead on the deal. Netflix is what prompted us to drop the VHS format and flip over to DVDs. In the last four months, I've started streaming Netflix movies on my iPad.

All of that in the space of 11 years. Wow. Fast Company ran a fascinating chronology of events in the life of Blockbuster this week. Back in 2000, Blockbuster had the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million. They passed. Probably a good thing for all of us movie buffs that they did. 

So what could Blockbuster have done to survive? The same thing that any organization that wants to survive and win needs to do these days – ask tough questions. If you're the leader you have to ask them, encourage them and motivate people to act on the answers. There are a lot of good questions you can ask. Some of the ones that I think would have helped Blockbuster that might help other organizations include:

  • What do our customers hate about us?
  • What do they love about us?
  • What do we do if they start loving things we don't offer?
  • Where is the technology taking our business?
  • How can we do things faster? Easier?
  • If we had to cut our costs by 50% and raise customer satisfaction by 50% at the same time, how would we do it?

Like I said, there are lots of questions you can ask to keep your organization from going literally or figuratively bankrupt. What questions would you add to the list?