The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google
Portfolio/Penguin Random House (October 2017)
Are these Four Horsemen deities of “god, love, sex, and consumption” or agents of “Death, the destroyer of Worlds”?
Scott Galloway’s answer is yes to both questions. He examines “four technology giants [that] have inspired more joy, connections, prosperity, and discovery than any [other] entity in history. Along the way, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have [also] created hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs.”
How did they do that?
“Amazon eases the pain of drudgery – getting the stuff you need to survive…At its core, Apple fills two instinctual needs: to feel closer to God [or at least to a community infused with spirituality] and be more attractive to the opposite sex…As measured by adoption and usage, Facebook is the most successful thing in the history of human kind…Google is a modern man’s god. It’s our source of knowledge – ever-present, aware of our deepest secrets, reassuring us where we are where we need to go, answer questions from trivial to profound.”
Galloway also explains how and why, at least to some extent, these same Four Horsemen have disrupted the modern business world with Death, Famine, War, and Conquest. And I am again reminded of Robert Oppenheimer’s reaction to the first successful test of an atomic bomb. He cites the Bhagavad Gita when Vishnu tries to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, in order to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Galloway calmly explains how and why Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have become economic and social forces — secular deities, really — addressing the anxieties and fulfilling the expectations of their digitized evangelists.
It’s quite true that most start-ups do not become billion-dollar companies – in fact only about 10% survive — but all of their leaders could learn many valuable dos and don’ts from Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.
According to Galloway, there are eight factors that are prevalent among the four companies, accompanied by comments I presume to add.
Here they are the first four (?)
1. Differentiation: Yes, it could be a unique product but also “where customers discover the product, how they buy it, how it’s delivered, etc.”
Comment: Keep in mind that “easy to do busy with” and “feeling appreciated” are of greatest importance to shoppers.
2. Visionary Capital: This is the ability to “attract cheap capital by articulating a bold vision that is easy to understand.”
Comment: Jeff Bezos envisioned being able to sell anything online and then created easy access to a “river” of almost unlimited products and services.
3. Global Reach: This is the ability to “go global. To be a truly large, meaningful company, you need a product that leaps geographic boundaries and appeals to people on a global scale.”
Comment: The term “global” is not a synonym for “everywhere.” Rather, it means wherever you want to be doing business. Keep in mind that capacity must always be able to accommodate.
4. Likability: “If you are perceived as a good actor, a good citizen, caring about the country, its citizens, your workers, the people in your supply chain that get you the product, you have created a barriers against bad publicity.”
Comment: You could do a great deal worse that pursue a business strategy based on The Golden Rule. The objective is to become and remain credible because your values are admirable and your performance is reliable.
Each of these components of the “T-Algorithm” is thoroughly discussed in Chapter 8.
Obviously, very few will become a trillion-dollar company. Who expected Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google to do so when each was launched? However, business leaders from all other companies can learn valuable lessons from what those four have accomplished…and more importantly, how they did it.
Galloway suggests that Amazon’s core competence is storytelling. How so?
Its Story: “Earth’s Biggest Store.”
Its Strategy: “Huge investments in consumer benefits that stand the test of time — lower cost, greater selection, and faster delivery.”
“Through storytelling, outlining a huge vision, Amazon has reshaped the relationship between company and shareholder. The story is told via media outlets, especially those covering business and tech. Many of them have decided to teach tech CEOs are the new celebrities, and they give Amazon the spotlight, center stage, and star billing anytime. Until now, the contract companies have with shareholders is: Give us a few years and tens of millions of dollars…and then we’ll begin returning capital in the form of profits. Amazon has exploded this tradition, replacing profits with vision and growth, via storytelling. The story is compelling and simple – the power couple of messaging.”
Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine could possibly do full justice to the information, insights, and counsel provided in this book but I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of it and of its author.
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Scott Galloway is a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and the founder of Firebrand Partners, a Hedge Fund that joined forces with the hedge fund Harbinger Capital in order to force change on the New York Times Co. in 2008. He is also part of a think tank called L2 and an expert on branding, luxury businesses, digital strategy, and the emergence of Asia as a consumer base.