Years ago, Reed Hastings had an idea for a new way of consuming entertainment.
He imagined a future where consumers could stream movies and shows through the internet—on demand. It was a powerful, revolutionary idea. One that would have overwhelmed many of us with all of its moving parts.
Hastings knew this was a very complex problem. So rather than trying to map it all out, he broke down the idea into key milestones. He then focused on testing only the first, simple step. A step that took just a few minutes to complete.
That’s how Netflix was born.
In today’s podcast episode, I describe the simple action Hastings took—and what it can teach you about how to approach your own complex problems.
The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Testing the DVD Model
Hastings was ahead of his time. So he couldn’t dive right into the online streaming model.
Instead, he needed to start with a model where Netflix sent out DVDs in the mail—and then wait for technology and infrastructure to catch up.
So what was the one simple action he needed to take to kickstart his DVD delivery model?
He had to make sure that a DVD could make it from point A to point B without getting damaged or lost in the mail.
To test the idea, he mailed a DVD to himself.
Sure enough, it arrived in his mailbox—undamaged.
That’s when he knew his idea was viable.
I tell you this story because it illustrates the importance of breaking complex projects into simple, doable steps—especially those first few.
I call these simple first steps “gateway actions.”
The only rule of a gateway action is that it must take 10 minutes or less to complete.
It’s the easiest way to get into the flow of a big initiative or project.
Because if those first few steps are unclear, difficult, or time-consuming, you probably won’t even get started.
But make your first step easy and simple, and you’ll ease your way in.
It’s your gateway action.
And it’s the very first step in a journey of a thousand miles.
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