One of the most successful narratives in modern capitalism is that of disruptive innovation, with its corollary of the fall of the incumbent and the rise of some upstart. We all know how it goes: there is a big, large, lazy established powerhouse that is well-established and conservative in style and approach. Suddenly, they are outmaneuvered and outperformed by some new player who is able to understand and use the power of innovation. This narrative is very appealing for many reasons: it is always easy to write a good story on this premise, it speaks to the good old feeling of rooting for the underdog and it satisfies a sense of justice, rewarding ingenuity and audacity over the conservativeness of the establishment. Above all, it resonates very well with way the United States tends to represent itself, starting at least with Theodore Roosevelt, as an upstart nation and innovator who looks towards the future while the old European empires are rooted in their glorious past.
However, the appeal of a narrative does not necessarily make it true. The fact is that the early years of the digital revolution saw the epic rise and fall of titans like Texas Instruments, IBM and Microsoft — although the latter was more like a dip. But it is also true that the big five (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft), or the ‘tech giants’, may be here to stay: generally speaking, upstarts and newcomers succeed in relatively new industries, where the incumbents remain below a certain critical mass and their position is still weak.