The Four Summary and Review

by Scott Galloway
Has The Four by Scott Galloway been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. Do you own any Apple products? If not, have you checked Facebook today? If you’re boycotting both Apple and Facebook, then you’re sure to have bought a book – or anything –Amazon. And even if you’re also dedicated to shopping in good old brick and mortar stores, then how long has it been since you conducted a Google search? Some people may be able to say, with a clear conscience, that they’ve done none of these things in the last few days, but they aren’t in the majority. Most of us have interacted with either Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, or some combination of the four, within the last 24 hours. How is it that these four companies came to dominate in the modern marketplace? In this summary of The Four by Scott Galloway, you’ll learn how the Four achieved success. You’ll also learn that though they proclaim themselves to be benevolent pioneers of the future, their motives don’t always agree with that message. You’ll also discover
  • how to spot a fifth horseman;
  • why you should become a city dweller; and
  • how Apple appeals to your loins.

The Four Key Idea #1: Four companies – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – are heavily involved in almost everyone’s modern life, and their presence is not purely benevolent.

Every human has needs, and today, four companies – the author refers to them as the Four Horsemen– seek to satisfy them all. Google is now the replacement for God. Instead of asking life’s big questions to an ever-silent deity on high, it’s now more convenient to type them into Google and receive and instant answer. Facebook is now responsible for love and connection that we once only found at home or among friends. Apple shores up our sex appeal. The iPhone and the MacBook aren’t technically any better than other smartphones or laptops, but they’re undeniably sexier. And Amazon, the temple of consumption, is able to bring us everything we could possibly want, from fiction, to food, to fashion. These Four Horsemen – God, love, sex and consumption – probably won’t bring on a biblical apocalypse, but their ubiquity has certainly changed the world. In today’s world, no matter what you’re searching for, from nail files to novels – you’ll probably search for it on Amazon first. In the United States, Amazon is already the top choice for online purchases, and this is quickly becoming the case internationally as well. Apple isn’t only the producer of the most universally coveted mobile phones and computers, but it’s also the most profitable company in history. Facebook has 1.2 billion visitors to the site daily. In other words, Facebook has managed to congregate nearly one-sixth of the world population in the same digital space. Google, on the other hand, is a modern-day oracle, an ever-flowing fountain of knowledge. We’re able to ask Google anything and everything, and the answers come back within roughly 0.0000005 seconds, which is a lot faster than you’d get a response back in Delphi’s heyday. There’s no doubt that the Four Horsemen have changed – many would say improved– our world, however, they don’t quite have the benevolent purpose many people ascribe to them. Here’s the standard story: this quartet of companies has done a great deal of good. They’ve created thousands of jobs, made a myriad of products easily accessible, and provided services that improve our day-to-day lives. In other words, at first glance, they really are making the world a better place. But take a moment to look at the fine print. Amazon not only refuses to pay sales taxes, but is known for mistreating its employees; in the wake of a domestic terrorist attack, Apple refused to release information that federal agents needed, even under court orders; Facebook has been known to take and sell our personal information; and Google aggressively lobbies and litigates against regulation of its anticompetitive practices. So, it’s important to unpack and learn more about these potentially problematic and manipulative companies.

The Four Key Idea #2: Amazon appeals to our natural stuff-gathering instincts, but on the other side of the world of consumption, it is eliminating competition and creating a hostile work environment.

First, let’s look at Amazon, the horseman of consumption. In 2016, about half of the growth of all online companies in the United states consisted of the growth of Amazon . On top of that, the number of people paying for Amazon Prime memberships is growing. In 2017, 52 percent of American households were Amazon Prime members. So what caused this horseman’s wild success? Well, Amazon appeals to our ancient instincts. This specifically means that they cater to our age-old gathering urge. In our ancient history, human beings were hunter-gatherers. Our ability to find and stockpile food and other useful objects was once incredibly crucial to our survival, and it allowed us to appear more attractive to potential mates. So, because this resides in our instincts, it’s no surprise that buying and hoarding material items is a huge part of living in a capitalist, consumer-based society. Companies have been benefiting off of our consumerist behavior for a long time now, but Amazon has done this more than any other company in history. Today, it’s possible to purchase anything online, from books, to beer, to batteries, and, within a day, have it delivered to your doorstep – all without getting up from the couch. Amazon’s success is based on its scale. Amazon has millions of customers because, as an online company, it’s able to reach virtually anyone with the goal of purchasing something, and it’s able to grow in almost any retail industry. The problem is, though, that the success of Amazon comes at the expense of other companies. Due to its size, Amazon is able to sell far more than basically any competition they might have. This puts competing companies out of business, thus destroying thousands of jobs in the process. And Amazon doesn’t necessarily create jobs, either. Have you ever questioned why there are so few pictures taken from inside Amazon warehouses? Well, there’s a reason for that: these warehouses are eerily devoid of people. Indeed, Amazon’s human workforce is increasingly being replaced by robots and mechanization. By one estimate, the growth Amazon experienced in 2017 destroyed roughly 76,000 jobs. Now, Amazon is on the path to becoming the world’s first ever trillion-dollar company.

The Four Key Idea #3: Apple, as a luxury brand, appeals to our desires for be special, all while creating its own rules.

On December 2, 2015, a 28-year-old health inspector named Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, shot and killed 14 of Farook’s coworkers at a departmental event. The country deemed this shooting as a terrorist attack, and, when the FBI acquired Farook’s locked iPhone, Apple was demanded by the court to unlock it. However, Apple refused to cooperate – and the public even supported the company’s decision to disobey the court. How did it manage this? What if Farook’s phone hadn’t been an iPhone? Do you think that BlackBerry, or any other mobile company would have gotten away with the same defiance? In all likelihood, had they disobeyed, BlackBerry likely would have been met with denouncement and threats of trade embargoes. Apple creates its own rules. Steve Jobs quickly became a tech icon, his creations now considered sacred objects. The MacBook and the iPhone symbolize innovation and coolness, and these qualities somehow put Apple above the law. However, Apple’s ability to evade the law isn’t the only thing that sets it apart from its competitors. It’s profits are a huge part of what sets them apart from other companies. Just in 2015, Apple recorded a net profit of $53.4 billion, a level of success never before achieved by a single company. It’s earnings in 2016 accounted for 79 percent of all smartphone purchases, despite Apple only controlling 14.5 percent of that market. How is it that Apple is able to do this? Well, it comes from our want as human beings to be special, and Apple’s luxury items – iPhones and MacBooks and iPads, which are as elegant and stylish as we want our lives to be – promise us that we can be. It’s important to remember, too, that these are luxury items, due to the fact that Apple has three things in common with other luxury brands like Porsche and Prada:
  • It has an iconic founder: Steve Jobs.
  • It expresses its artisanship via the simplicity of its design.
  • Despite being a low-cost producer, Apple sells its products at premium prices.
Luxury is sexy, and it’s this sexiness, not some innate superiority, that’s responsible for Apple’s success.

The Four Key Idea #4: Facebook relies on our need to be social, capitalizing on the marketing of our data and denying responsibility for its content.

Catholicism is 2,000 years old and has roughly 1.3 billion adherents. Facebook is 14 years old and has 1.2 billion daily users. How is it that a start-up that is just over a decade old has as many devotees as one of the largest world religions? The reason for this is simple: Facebook provides us with what we need to fulfill another human desire: the need for social relations. Based on statistics, Facebook is the most successful human endeavor of all time, nourishing our friendships,helping us to meet new people, and reconnecting us with old companions. These actions have a direct effect on our happiness. Being able to reconnect with an old friend from high school, exchange messages with an out-of-town pal, and scroll through photos of our best friend’s newborn baby can provide us with an extremely satisfying sensation of sociality. But Facebook, though ostensibly a champion of friendship and human connection, has ulterior motives. Really, Facebook is after our personal data, looking to turn our lives into profits. When we click on something, like a post, or share a video, Facebook takes the information connected to that thing and relates it to your personal details, such as your age or where you went to school. Why is it, though, that they have any interest in this type of data? Well, if, for example, you have a habit of posting articles about Bernie Sanders and somewhere in your bio, you’ve written the word “Berkeley.” Facebook is now able to piece together that you probably don’t read the Breitbart News. This type of information allows advertisers to more accurately direct their information to specific groups of people (such as those who dislike Breitbart News) with customized ads. On top of this, because Facebook refuses to take responsibility for any content on the site, it has very low costs. If, like other news providers, Facebook had to hire content editors, its expenses would go up considerably. But, since it’s considered a platform, not a media outlet, Facebook isn’t required to take any responsibility for any of the content on the site, although its content is in no way neutral or unbiased. Facebook is more aware of our political views than any other company, allowing them to provide our news feeds with content we might agree with, meaning that a left-leaning user will see more articles from, say, the New York Times.  There is a huge problem with this type of content organization, though, by reinforcing views that people already adhere to, Facebook’s algorithmic curation polarizes society.

The Four Key Idea #5: Google is the modern-day God – omniscient, omnipotent, and completely trustworthy.

Since the beginning of time, people have put their faith in some higher power. We once directed our prayers to God, hoping that He might help us penetrate life’s many mysteries, and, though He always listened, He rarely replied. Today, there’s a more responsive deity on the block – Google, a digital god always ready to answer our questions. Gone are the days of hopeful eyes turned toward heaven; we now gaze devoutly screenward. Google, all-knowing, trustworthy, and extremely powerful, is really a new, global God. The world our pagan ancestors lived in is still a mystery to us. The world we live in now is a world of facts, with more access to information than we know what to do with – and Google is eternally at our fingertips, waiting to answer every question we might have. We aren’t afraid to ask Google anything, and therefore, there’s nothing it doesn’t know about us: each question is a sort of confession. Simply googling the name of an ex-partner, we’re revealing to Google that this person is still on our mind. Asking Google about our medical symptoms, reveals information about our health. With our queries, we sketch our identities. We trust Google with our most closely guarded secrets, information we’d normally hide from doctors and lawyers, rabbis and priests, friends and family. This makes Google a very powerful god. Google receives about 3.5 billion search queries a day, which, in combination with all the other data we provide – such as photos and emails – gives Google nearly a total understanding of who we are and what we desire. When it comes to the advertising industry, Google certainly is godly. In 2016, Google made $36 billion, all thanks to the data we gave it.

The Four Key Idea #6: The Four Horsemen are cunning thieves, robbing us blind by appealing to our hearts, brains, and lusts.

Each of the Four Horsemen is a force to be reckoned with, and each of them used similar sneaky methods to get to where they are today. Really, the Four are all cunning thieves. Let’s look at Apple first. In what is perhaps the most well-known appropriation in tech history, Steve Jobs created a game-changing computer by blatantly stealing Xerox’s idea for a mouse-driven graphical user interface now known as the desktop. Though the desktop was Xerox’s brainchild, the company didn’t have the resources nor the ability to fully realize its vision, leading to Apple, who knew how to build computers and incorporate software, being able to swoop in and take the idea. The rest is history. The other three horsemen also “borrow” other company’s ideas, however, in a somewhat subtler fashion. Google gathers information from around the web and then provides us with a “valuable free service” – the ability to search the information it has gathered. While the “borrowed” information Google’s property, Google still profits from it. Facebook functions in a similar way by allowing users to create content – and then selling the data revealed by that content to advertisers. But Facebook isn’t really stealing our vacation photos or our impassioned posts; it’s just “borrowing” them. Amazon, on the other hand, lures in sellers by inviting them to use its platform to find new buyers. Once these sellers start selling on Amazon, however, they must then begin competing with Amazon, because Amazon will start “borrowing” newcomers’ business ideas to offer similar products at lower prices. Combined, the Four appeal to our three most important body parts: the brain, the heart – and the loins. Google and Amazon both appeal to the brain. The brain is rational, constantly weighing costs and benefits. Both Google and Amazon make doing both of these things much easier, helping us weigh the costs and benefits of almost everything, from online purchases to future vacation destinations. Facebook speaks the heart’s language, helping us find friends and connections when we feel alone. And finally, Apple is seductive, especially through its built-in promise that, by buying the newest iPhone, we’ll be as sexy it is.

The Four Key Idea #7: There are eight factors at play in creating the first trillion-dollar company.

The Four Horsemen dominate today’s world, but might a fifth horseman be able to emerge and unsaddle these other riders? If a fifth horseman were to emerge, it could very well be the first company ever to be worth $1 trillion. According to the author, there are eight factors that a fifth horseman would need to possess in order to become the first trillion-dollar company. Since “trillion” is the key word, he calls these combined attributes the T Algorithm. The first factor is product differentiation. Each of the Four offer a superior product – Apple has the iPhone; Amazon can deliver within hours – so a challenging horseman would need a comparably superior product. Second is visionary capital. Each of the Four have a compelling vision for the future which ends up being the thing that attracts investors. Google, for example, has the goal of organizing all the information in the world, while Facebook wants to connect everyone on earth. The third factor is global reach. A trillion-dollar company needs to offer a product that can reach anyone, anywhere, meaning it will probably have to be at least partially digital. Fourth is likability. In order to avoid intervention, the fifth horseman would need to keep a very positive image. In general, the Four don’t look as benign as they once did, and this is the main chink in their armor. The fifth factor is vertical integration. For a company to be vertical, it has to control each stage in the production and the distribution of its product, which is something each of the Four do. The sixth factor is artificial intelligence. The Four are each data experts, collecting as much data as possible and, in the process, making their algorithms as smart as possible. Seventh is accelerant. In an attempt to attract top talent, a fifth horseman needs to be perceived as a company that could accelerate a person’s career. And the eighth factor is geography. The Four are all located nearby a pretentious university  – Stanford, UC Berkeley, the University of Washington – and they have each cultivated a good relationship with their neighboring academic institution, allowing them to recruit only the best and brightest. Is there a company you can think of that might have a change of becoming the fifth horseman?

The Four Key Idea #8: The company that may become the fifth horseman might already exist, and it could be a company like Alibaba, Uber, or Microsoft.

Out of all the world’s companies, who is it that might emerge as the fifth horseman? Although it would be impossible to make any true predictions, there are quite a few candidates that might stand a chance. High on the list is Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company. There are a lot of people who haven’t even heard of Alibaba, which may make it seem like a bit of a dark horse. But, actually, it’s the world’s largest retailer. Alibaba has nearly half a billion active users, meaning that it represents 63 percent of Chinese retail. However, if it wants to become the fifth horseman, it definitely has a long way to ride. The first problem is that Alibaba doesn’t currently have any global reach. Though popular in China, it’s far from a household name elsewhere. The Chinese government is another factor that stands between Alibaba and international, lasting success. It’s unlikely that Western investors would back it until it separates itself from its government. Another promising candidate is the ride-sharing platform, Uber. With a fleet of drivers roughly two-million strong, and a reach of about 80 countries and 600 cities, Uber certainly has global influence. In fact, Uber is actually the main mode of transportation in many big cities. Uber also attracts tons of investors who approve of the company’s vision – and it’s even got data skills to rival the current Four Horsemen. The one thing detracting from its success is its low likeability. The former CEO, Travis Kalanick, was forced to resign because people considered him an “asshole.” It’s also been thought that Uber managers may have tracked passengers (including journalists) in real time, either out of boredom or other, more problematic reasons. There are two other, older companies, that might have a shot at being the fifth horseman: Microsoft and Walmart. Although Amazon is one of Walmart’s largest competitors, it still has a chance of winning the race. Not to mention, Walmart has decades more experience and 12,000 stores under its management. Its Achilles’ heel though, is similar to Uber’s: likability. Walmart is often seen as destructive to small businesses, and most Walmart workers only make minimum wage. Microsoft is another company with a huge chance of success. Ninety percent of desktop computers run on Windows, and Microsoft also owns LinkedIn, the professional networking platform – which alone, could make Microsoft the fifth horseman if it attracts anywhere near as many users as Facebook has.

The Four Key Idea #9: In order to be successful in a world dominated by the Four, it’s important to develop your personality, get your education, move to a big city, and start developing your career.

Today’s world is shaped by the Four. So how would someone get ahead in such a world? One of the first things to do is to develop three important personality qualities: The first, and most important, is emotional maturity. In the digital age, all employees are now expected to handle an ever-broader range of responsibilities. Therefore, people who have a reliable character and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations will be favored. Next is curiosity. The only constant in the digital age is change. This means it’s important to stay curious so that you can keep learning about new tools and technologies in order to acquire new skills and techniques. The third attribute is ownership, meaning that you should be completely dedicated to the task you’re working on, your newest project, or the business you run. Own it! In addition to working on these personal qualities, it’s important to further your education. If it’s accessible to you, go to college. College graduates actually make, on average, ten times more money than people who only have a high school diploma. However, if college simply isn’t an option, try to get a certification in something. It doesn’t really matter what you get certified in: from accounting to nursing to yoga instruction. The certificate is the important thing, which is a credential that will set you apart. Even simply having a driver’s license is better than nothing. Next, if you want to be successful, moving to a city is a good place to start. Cities are brimming with opportunity. Information, wealth, power: if you want any of these things, you’ll have to head cityward. Cities are home to around 90 percent of new jobs in the United States, so if you want work, a city is the place to be. And, finally, to develop, you’ve got to pimp your career. This means, you should find a medium you like, and use it to shout your awesomeness to the world. This is the goal of social media. Set up a profile on LinkedIn and use it to share your skills and knowledge. Other great platforms are Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. The Four have shaped the world we live in, and now that you understand how that world works, you’ve got to make it work for you.

In Review: The Four Book Summary

The key message in this book: The Four Horsemen – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – dominate not only our online experience but the whole corporate world. The Four are the most valuable companies in the world, having reached their success by appealing to our deep human desires while engaging in some questionable practices. While there’s no doubt they’ll be around for a while, there’s always a chance they might disappear, or a fifth horseman might arise. In the meantime, it’s best to learn how to thrive in the world they’ve created.  Actionable advice: Follow your talent! So often, people say that in order to be successful, you should follow your passion, but that advice might not quite be the best to follow. Instead, it’s best to follow your talent. First, figure out what it is you’re good at (the sooner you do that, the better), and commit to becoming great at it. As you improve and grow from good to great, the recognition and compensation you will receive for your work will ultimately lead to you also loving what you do.