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Bezos, Cook, Pichai, and Zuckerberg Ain’t Innovators

Say what you will about the Four Horsemen of the Techocalypse. Call them robber barons. Call them crypto-liberals. Call them titans of industry. Just don’t call them innovators. Because they’re not. No way.

They’d all like you believe that they’re sterling examples of leaders who use innovation to drive growth and profit. In fact, their track record as innovators is astoundingly thin.

Bezos didn’t invent online ordering or home delivery. The most you can say is that he had the sense to take advantage of hardcopy book publishers (who were singularly clueless) and has been willing to screw his erstwhile partners.

Apple’s period of innovation came to a screeching halt when Cook took the helm from Jobs; the only new form factor they’ve released since then was the Apple Watch, and that was already under development when Jobs died.

Google under Pichai remains exactly as it was under Larry Page, a two-trick pony: 1) a search engine (other engines predated Google by years) and a streaming video site (which it acquired rather than invented).

And Zuckerberg copied Facebook from existing products. Kill a butterfly and it would have been Myspace that became a defacto standard. Facebook’s add-on features were either hijacked from other firms or purchased through acquisition.

The profit and growth for these firms come almost exclusively from the economies of scale. They’re large enough to squeeze supply chains and suppliers, and wealthy enough to catch and kill competitors. They’re ruthless efficient more than startlingly original.

And efficiency is the enemy of innovation, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “The High Price of Efficiency.” What happens is that efficiency causes a concentration of profit and power, creating one or two big winners inside each industry or industry segment. Those big winners then become innovation killers.

Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook so completely dominate their respective markets that no amount of innovation is likely to disrupt or displace them. Quite the contrary, any startup that threatens their dominance is either acquired or forced to scavenge for scraps.

I mean, think about it. When was the last time you saw a truly innovative tech product become successful? The only recent example that comes to mind is TikTok, which Zuckerberg appears to be edging his pal Trump into banning it from the Web.

It always astounds me when entrepreneurs look to these four guys as role models for startup success. They’re inside companies that don’t even have to do an adequate job at their core business, and they’re still gonna make money. That’s not innovation; it’s monopoly.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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