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The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Hardcover – October 3, 2017
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“An existential alarm bell wrapped in a business lesson wrapped in an entertaining and often hilarious (and, yes, occasionally blue-languaged) series of stories built with great writing. It keeps you entertained to make sure you’re informed.” – 800-CEO-READ
“Galloway takes the reader through a refreshingly clear-eyed look at the nature of dominance at Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google. He is interested in how these companies become more valuable with use instead of less, how they benefit from low cost of capital and the implications for things [that] could further strengthen their dominance.” —Brad Stone, Bloomberg Technology
“As the power of technology’s biggest companies comes under more scrutiny, NYU business professor Galloway reveals how Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google built massive empires.” —Publishers Weekly, “The Top 10 Business Books of Fall 2017”
"This is that rare book that not only informs but entertains. You'll never look at these four companies the same way again." - Jonah Berger, author of Contagious
“Scott Galloway is honest, outrageous, and provocative. This book will trigger your flight-or-fight nervous system like no other and in doing so challenge you to truly think differently.” —Calvin McDonald, CEO of Sephora
“The Four is an essential, wide-ranging powerhouse of a book that, like Scott Galloway himself, marries equal parts incisive, entertaining, and biting. As in his legendary MBA lectures, Galloway tells it like it is, sparing no business titan and no juggernaut corporation from well-deserved criticism. A must read.” —Adam Alter, author of Drunk Tank Pink
“If there is a blunter, more opinionated, faster-talking expert on the Internet than Scott Galloway, I haven’t come across him. Or her.” —Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Fortune
“Scott Galloway’s The Four is a bareback ride upon the four horses of the economic apocalypse – Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. It is a timely exposition of the nature and concentration of power in the world today and, as a result, is much more than just a business book…The book contains more insights and provocative ideas than Amazon has Boeing 767s… My recommendation is to walk down to your local book store and buy this – or more likely, buy it on Amazon.”
Tom Upchurch, Wired
About the Author
Scott Galloway is a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he teaches brand strategy and digital marketing to second-year MBA students. A serial entrepreneur, he has founded nine firms, including L2, Red Envelope, and Prophet. In 2012, he was named one of the “World’s 50 Best Business School Professors” by Poets & Quants. His weekly YouTube series, “Winners and Losers,” has generated tens of millions of views. This is his first book.
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Using Galloway’s logic, the agricultural and industrial revolutions were bad for society because of the lost jobs.
Don’t waste your money!
I have two children that have/ are attending NYU where Galloway is a professor. SCARY.
On the other hand, if your a socialist or communist, you might just like this book.
Why not a five star rating then? Well, while the book has some big thesis insights into the internet corporate behemoths and online commerce, it generally stays with the big part. This is valuable, and I’m guessing most readers will walk away with some fresh insights. However, once a big idea is noted, he tends to not delve deeper (particularly notable when the subtitle promises "the Hidden DNA." There were even a few times when The Four feels like a blog rant, giving him an opportunity to vent at one of the big companies (most notably that Apple wouldn’t help the FBI crack the code of an iPhone to help them gather evidence on a San Bernardino shooter/terrorist). He also spends a bit of time telling us some obvious things, though in fairness to Galloway, it is tricky to know what to leave out as common knowledge when you are writing for a general audience. As someone who knows a fair bit about ecommerce, I may be showing my bias here, but confirming my sense of some obviousness is the notably lower rating (at this writing at least) that Amazon readers of business books give the book compared to general readers.
I also wish Galloway would have delved deeper into the cultural and political implications for society when a handful of companies dominate the digital economy and have outsized influence in nearly every sphere. He touches upon this, but just touches. Perhaps that is too much to ask of a business book, but even the bigger picture business implications don’t get considered in a sustained way. Originally I wanted to say Galloway could be superficial, but that isn’t quite right--especially since he can definitely be trenchant and often has a wicked sharp wit. What I finally realized is that the shortfall comes from his impatience. He says as much as he describes himself and his impatience comes across in some of the stories he tells about himself (most notably in his handling of his efforts to bludgeon the New York Times to change). Ultimately this impatience leads to the book's greatest weakness.
Another example of The Four's superficiality/impatience: he casually refers to evolutionary “explanations” for business phenomenon. I am very much inclined toward evolutionary explanations for human behavior as well, but they come off as tossed out there instead of carefully thought through. Galloway’s breezy style also doesn’t help here. That is, Galloway enjoys being flip and cussing a fair bit. I’m not prudish in the slightest and think that he can often be quite amusing, but there is something about using LOTS of f-bombs and s-bombs (<not spelled out only because I assume Amazon would delete curse words) that take away their power when they are used too often. And ultimately they diminish some of the very weighty issues. Even that suggests a kind of impatience. That is, a tossed out flip dismissal is often used as a substitute for well crafted writing.
In short, The Four has value, but it had potential be lots more. So I definitely wouldn’t turn other readers away, but don’t get your hopes up for a masterpiece.
Picketty has earned the right to perhaps be the world’s leading spokesperson for a type of apocalypse of culture and society caused by this rising inequality. He has studied this subject all of his career and is now professor (directeur d'études) at the Etude des hautes etudes en sciences sociales (EHESS), associate chair at the Paris Economics and Centennial professor at the International Inequalities Institute, which is part of the London School of Economics. (LSE)
On May 18, 2014, the English edition Picketty’s book was published by Harvard University Press. It reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller list for best-selling hardcover nonfiction and became the greatest sales success ever of academic publisher Harvard University Press. As of January 2015, the book had sold 1.5 million copies in French, English, German, Chinese and Spanish.
The book’s central thesis is that when the rate of return on capital r is greater than the rate of economic growth g over the long term, the result is concentration of wealth, and this unequal distribution of wealth causes social and economic instability. Piketty proposes a global system of progressive wealth taxes to help reduce inequality and avoid the vast majority of wealth coming under the control of a tiny minority.
However, at the end of 2014, Piketty released a paper where he stated that he does not consider the relationship between the rate of return on capital and the rate of economic growth as the only or primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth inequality. He began with a long-range historical analysis between labor and ownership. This has continued an upward progression throughout its entire history. He also noted that r > g is not a useful tool for the discussion of rising inequality of labor income.
Overall, Pickitty’s book reignited one of the great debates of modern economics. It had many critics and many fans. Amongst the top elite from both the left and the right.
* * *
Yet the Picketty’s brilliant book never saw any type of adequate follow-up from American business writing or academic journals.
The task seemed fit for some young professor at Harvard, representing the perfect zeitgeist of his generation, in tune with all the technology. As a teacher, someone who wants to give, and like a student, someone who also needs to receive. An entrepreneur and reformer, upset with the inequality of modern business. Or, on the other hand, perhaps an aging, legendary professor should write a response to the Picketty book for modern business perhaps. Some old professor who sees across the modern business landscape with the wisdom of his years and experience. Looks across the landscape like an old western hero at the end of another movie.
The first person to really update the Piketty argument to modern business comes from perhaps a combination of the two persons above. He possesses an entrepreneurial spark that has always challenged authority founding six businesses. At the same time, a certain wisdom from seeing the battlefield different from other business writers. He is one of the most popular professors in the country and speaks at many events.
It is Sloan School of Business professor Scott Galloway places Picketty into the heart of an important experiment in progress to test out Picketty’s theories in a live situation. His new book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google (Portfolio, 2017) is positioned as a general business book focused on telling readers what the big four's “hidden DNA” is. I think Galloway does a good job at explaining common things they all possessed, ways of using the government and capital. Creating products that appealed to our major senses located in head, heart and groins.
He speculates on the new members of the club of four in the future. Which ones might drop out or consolidate with another in the future years? What are the new upcoming (high market cap) companies? He mentions Tesla, Uber, B-N-B, among a few others. He talks about coming battles and the dynamics that will affect all of them in the race to be the first trillion-dollar corporation (Apple reported $900 million market cap on 11/2/17).
* * *
Yet there are many places in the book where the activist in Galloway comes out. Even as he tries to be the popular business professor he is. The outbursts are l throughout the book. They come in short statements, sometime using cuss words to single he is really mad. For example, Galloway really upset at what he says these companies get away with: “These companies avoid taxes, invade privacy and destroy jobs to increase profits because ... they can.”
And then, back to his brief, entertaining textual tour of the big four that control our surrounding media like water around fish.
In fact, the products sold by the big four today is something that leads to them really getting away with everything today. This mutual product is really distraction. Galloway says this a few times (indirectly and directly) and then moves on back to his tour of the big four. Yet it truly distraction is the grand elixir of our time. Modern political power in America is increasingly linked to soft distraction (indirect soft symbols brands, images) rather than hard force (direct, hard symbols).
Political power is linked to the digital four because the grand product of the four is really distraction by products, social and search. Super phones and apps keep the general populace quiet and happy and distracted from the government that controls things. Not only the American government but the corporate governments that run the nations of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
Think of it. Amazon distracts by saying you can have what you want in a day. Apple distracts by providing the great luxury product. Facebook offers connection with friends. And shouting “I exist” to the world. Google is a type of God controlling information. All forms of distraction. Again, the digital four having huge influence in DC.
The book shows (in simple charts) and tells (in entertaining language) an interesting story to the reader about the big four of today. (The old railroad barons of a San Francisco past come to mind)
Yet always under (and between) the text, is the business professor rebel who has been involved with progressive events like getting on the board of Apple. A professor who outwardly gives readers “hidden DNA” secrets of the big four and at the same time hopes he can stir modern business students to think activist ideas about business today. Things need to change and no one is doing anything about it. Everyone in the nation has their own big idea to change America today for the better. Race, sex and religion are certainly on many minds.
Galloway and Piketty say that income inequality if the greatest force effecting our world today. As Galloway says at one point, creating
What makes Galloway’s book even more interesting is that it does not set out to be the French-American link in a long term economic theory. In picking the corporations that have the highest market caps, as well as things like “return on human capital” (number of employees, market cap on each employee). They turned out to be what Galloway calls the “four horsemen.” (He tells the reader he almost said Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse but he pulls back).
* * *
In effect, Galloway’s The Four offers a placement of Piketty’s ideas into ground zero sector of the creation of huge gaps in wealth to inequality ratios. That rarified (yet surprisingly little studied) business world known to very few. Inhabited by the world’s greatest corporations - Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – and the great leaders of these corporations.
Americans blame so many different things for the problems today. Diversity is alive in opinions and feelings across the nation. Many argue the cause of our problems is either race, sex or religion. A few, like Picketty and Galloway, argue it is wealth inequality. The disappearance of a middle class and the division of America into a two-class society.
While the stated purpose of Galloway’s book is to reveal “hidden DNA” of the four horsemen, (so that the rest of us regular people can navigate in these new waters), the real subtext of the book offers a type of visual manifesto through many, simple, cartoonish charts that get right to the point. In these charts, one can see the amazing inequality between the four corporations and the traditional corporations. Galloway laments that the traditional corporations - like GM – created the middle class and did not have such grand income inequality. The big four are quickly wiping out the middle class in America. Galloway presents a scary business landscapes patrolled by these grand monsters of modern business. Does anyone dare challenge them? Should they be made into utilities? Are they platforms or more than platforms?
The book provides interesting insights into the big four and the way they operate. Yet, much more important, it sounds the alarm to young business students. What the book says about the big four is not as important as sounding it’s “call to arms” to young people today.
Galloway talks about his T-Algorithm that studies various aspects of a corporation and has come up with common elements of the big four. To me, the various eight elements of the algorithm are fairly common business concerns such as product differentiation, global reach, likeability, vertical integration and geography. Nothing really new here for me.
* * *
The most interesting part of the book for me was the beginning chapters and charts where I realized the incredible gap the big four are creating in the business world. In the first few pages of Galloway’s book, there is an amazing statistic that speaks to the power and the threat of the four great tech companies today. There is a chart called Return on Human Capital that lists two statistics of companies in 2016: the number of employees and the market cap per employee.
One corporation – GM - is representative of the old era of American business. The other corporation – Facebook – is representative of the new era of digital business:
GM – 215,000 employees/$231,000 return on human capital per employee = 1.07
Facebook – 17,048 employees/$20.5 million return on human capital per employee = 1,202
A market cap/Number of employees equaled a Return on Human Capital percentage or number. It might be expressed like this:
MC/NE = RHC
One of the truths Galloway writes about with simple, powerful charts and exciting words, is the fact that leading tech companies have High MC/Low NE = High RHC while old economy American companies use the formula: Low MC/High NE. Higher return on human capital?
New Tech Big Four / High MC/Low NE = High RHC
Old Economy Company / Lower MC/High NE = Low RHC
Galloway mentions a few of the old companies in these figures: Unilever has $156 MC/171,000 NE (middle-class households) and Intel has $165 MC/107,000 NE. It is the disappearing middle class in America that is pushing culture into the two opposing positions of wealth. The few wealth, the many poor.
* * *
“In a democratic society the existence of large centers of private power is dangerous to the continuing vitality of a free people.” Louis Brandeis
The last chapter of the short business book is led off by the quote above from Justic Louis Brandeis. Galloway expressed this view through the short chapter. is where Galloway expresses his activism giving a great recruiting talk to business students. He has been impressed with the great four as he has taken us through them. Yet he is angry with them too.
For example, he notes Facebook is a company with 17,000 employees valued at $448 billion. “The riches flow to the lucky few. Disney, a hugely successful media company by traditional standards, commands less than half that market capitalization ($181 billion), but employs 185,000 people.”
As Galloway says “This uber-productivity creates growth, but not necessarily prosperity. Giants of the industrial age, including General Motors and IBM, employed hundreds of thousands of workers. The spoils were carved up more fairly than today. Investors and executives got rich, though not billionaires, and workers, many of them unionized, could buy homes and motorboats and send their kids to college.”
Galloway laments this time in America. “That’s the America that millions of angry voters want back. They tend to blame global trade and immigrants, but the tech economy, and its fetishization, is as much to blame.”
The four tech companies. And their grand product of distraction. Few are focusing on them today. This is exactly the way they want it to remain.
The big four believe much that “the opiate of the masses will be streaming video content and a crazy-powerful phone.” They’ve been proven right time and time again by behavioral data on their customers.
The four employ 418,000 employees. Value of public shares of stock is $2.3 trillion. As much wealth as the gross domestic product of France with 67 million citizens.
As Galloway notes, “It’s dangerous for society, and it shows no signs of slowing down. It hollows out the middle class, which leads to bankrupt towns, feeds the angry politics of those who feel cheated, and underpins the rise of demagogues … the distortions are visible and disturbing.”
At the end of his book, Galloway says “We have a perception of these large companies (the four) that they must be creating a lot of jobs, but in fact they have a small number of high-paying jobs, and everybody else is fighting over the scraps. America is on pace to be home to 3 million lords and 350 million serfs.”
He ends the book on a positive note. “I am certain that understanding the Four gives insight into our digital age and a greater capacity to build economic security for you and your family.”
Yet Galloway does not feel an answer is coming anytime too quickly from a distracted culture today.
* * *
Noted in the program of Galloway speaking at a conference in October of 2017, Galloway says “We now worship at the Altar of Innovation as opposed to character and kindness. And we have to remember that these companies, they have one mission, and that is to increase shareholder value. They’re not concerned with the condition of our souls, they’re not going to take care of us when we’re old. So we assign them these very positive attributes, and we’re generous with them, and we give them what I would refer to as the Mother of All Hall Passes, when in fact we should be treating them like any other company.”
Galloway tells us at the end of the book that he is not some policy wonk.
But of course he really is one at heart. This kind of stuff involves some type of force as it is not going to start up randomly under our capital system on steroids. Never in history has this wealth accumulation by a few leaving many in poverty been seen. Perhaps a few periods in American history (the time of the Big Four in California) but for the most part American companies of the old economy generally had low capitalization and many employees. A middle class was created this way.
Yet the formula of the Big Four:
High MC/Low NE = High RHC
Think of the ratios of RHC in the GM Facebook comparison. GM RHC was 1.07% of employees. GM had 215,000 employees, and the market cap per employee was $231,000, or 1.07%
Today’s Facebook has 17,000 employees and a market cap per employee of $20.5 million or 1,000 % RHC. These figures, Galloway feels, are not about to voluntarily change themselves under a hands-off philosophy of the right. Galloway sees some type of government intervention at this spot. That is if Apple doesn’t take its billions and provide free tuition to all as he suggests. His time on the Apple board convinces Galloway that this is not about to happen anytime too soon.
This of course is where the liberals and conservatives part ways. Galloway and Pinketty feel some type of government intervention is needed that our capitalistic market (on steroids with the activities of the big four, which no one really sees, being distracted by the four’s great greatest product, distraction of course.
It’s somewhat of a vicious cycle and it is still unclear who will win the final battle: the people or the government? Those that control versus those that are controlled? The big four or a new type of American business?
A place many sci fi writers have tried to visualize.
But it is best expressed not through crazy scenes from movies but rather in those changing numbers of MC, NE and RHC. As in no time in history, do we have the ability to observe the super nova of the modern capitalistic system in the activities and the MC/NE ratios of the big four. At no time in history is it exploding more than ever, the distance of inequality in America, the emergence of two classes against each other, in the background of all racial, sexual or religious battles. A great divide between two growing groups in America.
* * *
It was one of those books that stayed with me after I dropped it back at the New Albany library. I asked myself, how could anything ever happen to change all of this? Certainly Galloway didn’t provide many enlightening answers to the question in his book chapter.
Then, I thought that most of the power for a more equal society should come from the technology of the four. Their algorithms and masses of data are now being used to create more of a divide in America between two groups. They are being used to sell. Might the very algorithms of the four be changed to search and create more equality through their formulas?
The math that the four are created on maximizes High MC and Low NE. This is a formula for inequality. Their needs to be a search and acceptance between the four for a new formula perhaps that no longer distract the user from the four. Low MC (yet many small businesses) and high NE is a formula for small business in America it seems.
The big four spend all their research on how to distract. What if their research might be on how to create rather than distract? Research on how to create more equality in our culture.
Not through pep talks or our inherent kindness. Rather through new formulas the four are so good at. Formulas for inequality. Formulas can be made for equality.
It’s probably not has difficult as creating a new video game.
Or, another action movie that bombs.
Scott Galloway has taken the old ball od historical research into inequality by Frenchman Piketty and gave it direct application to the greatest income inequality producers in history: the big four companies of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. All old friends of all of ours these days.
Hopefully, Galloway will return in a later book. Perhaps joined by a few other professors of business who have bought into having leading businesses use their power to create greater wealth equality in the world today. Perhaps some of the brightest engineers and managers of the big four? Will his book bring these incredible formulas of the big four before society? Will anything be done about it? Can anything be done about the big four get them to create new formulas for a more equal world.
Or, perhaps the big four will simply make their phones more crazy, the music more loud, the cable channels more racy?
The inequality becoming worse and worse all the time. But on many minds today living in opiod hazes or the power of digital media. The power to distact from all the inequality all around us. To think like they want us to think. That racism or sex or religion is what divides us today. Americans have seldom suspected there might be another force other than these areas that divide America. Over all of this, the increasing distance between poverty and wealth in America expands as never before in the inequality ratios they all run on today.
(Buy the book on Amazon. Google information on it. Like it on Facebook. Tweet about it on your iPhone. Post it on Instagram. Soon coming, the Big Four App for your iPhone)
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