Google, Amazon, and Netflix Know Their Most Important Product Is You

Innovation Expert
Over a year ago

The first industrial sociologist, Frenchman Frederic le Play, revolutionized business strategy by recognizing that the coal mine's most essential asset wasn't the raw material extracted from the mine, but the miner himself. Steve Jobs expressed a similar notion, though not exactly the same, when he said his favorite Apple product wasn't a piece of technology, but the team of people he worked to build.

The essence of the message here is that products aren't what help a company innovate. Investing in the human capital on which their business depends helps companies innovate. Bringing that lesson into the present day means incorporating information about the highly distributed digital landscape.

We are no longer just talking about a company's employees. Instead, we are talking about customers who exist on a network — think Google, Amazon, Netflix, and LinkedIn — serving essential information about their habits back to the company. When Google decided to invest in their users by offering free email services, the returns were enormous in terms of both market share and awareness of their customers' habits.