You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

by | Dec 23, 2019

Everyone is familiar with the phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This expression was first recorded in 1523 in “The Book of Husbandry,” and was used to help men run their farms. Now the phrase is used to express the difficulty of teaching a new skill to someone who is set in their ways. Imagine trying to convince your grandpa to join a modern yoga class — it’s probably the last activity he would want to participate in.

Is It All New-Age Nonsense?

changeIf you take that expression and apply it to business, you’ll notice a similar pattern. Several companies that found their footing in the mid-1800s balk at some of the strategies implemented by newer start-ups. They may have made changes of necessity back in the day, like renovating their business to survive the Great Depression. And yet, even though change allowed them to grow, today, those same companies might laugh at the idea of offering their employees a napping room, paid fitness memberships, or access to a free kegerator.

Their main line of thinking is this: If a company has remained successful for nearly two centuries, why would it need to incorporate modern workplace perks to stimulate continued growth?

It’s Not Nonsense

While it would have been easy for them to embody an old mindset, American Express did something different. They continue to prove that a company built in 1850 can keep up in the 21st century. Since its humble beginnings as an express mail business based out of Buffalo, New York, American Express has consistently maintained its position as one of the top 20 World’s Most Admired Businesses by constantly innovating itself through the implementation of many new ideas and proven practices.

One of the ways American Express ensures employee longevity is through its commitment to an inclusive workplace. As a global company, American Express understands that its success relies on its employees being as diverse as the customers they serve. Through their Global Diversity & Inclusion initiative, they channel their efforts to develop a pool of talented individuals with unique backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. American Express predicates this initiative on fostering a workplace where differences can be expressed freely. They know that employees won’t feel confident taking risks or collaborating if they don’t feel supported.

What’s particularly respectable about American Express is that their intention to enrich the lives of their employees is achieved through authentic and pragmatic means, as reflected by their numbers. 

The Hard Data


  •     Women comprise over 50% of their global workforce and more than 30% of senior executives;
  •     The company has scored 100% on the U.S. Human Rights Campaign index annually since 2004;
  •     Three Executive Employee Networks support black, Hispanic, and female executive leaders;
  •     And they offer a $500 Welcome Back Benefit for veterans returning home from overseas duty.

In addition, American Express’s exemplary treatment of their existing employees is nearly unmatched:

  •     They contributed to seven research studies with the Center for Talent Innovation, focusing on how to advance women in the workplace;
  •     The company offers 20 weeks of paid parental leave at 100% of base salary for new moms and dads;
  •     They offer 40 backup child care days to help new parents transition back to work;
  •     And employees who adopt or use a surrogate can be reimbursed up to $35,000.

With benefits like these, it’s no wonder American Express has made the list of Great Places to Work. And I speak from experience when I say that earning your spot on a list of Best Places to Work is certainly no easy feat, but it’s worth the work it takes to achieve, solely based on the boost of morale it can generate for the entire company alone.

In a world where minority’s and women’s rights are polarizing topics, spending thousands to start a diversity initiative is inspiring. 

So, What Can We Learn From Them?

learnThe modern world is changing — that’s what it does, and that’s what it will always do. Sure, there are plenty of thriving businesses out there that have been stuck in their ways for a long time. For now, that’s serving them just fine. But there’s no way of knowing if those practices will continue to work to their benefit in the future. If their unwavering outlooks give them grief, they would be wise to take a page from American Express’s book.

For those who are still looking to build a successful business, the proof is in the pudding. Adapting to the changing atmosphere of professional industries can bring you into the new age of business. And that adaptation may result in growth in ways that you didn’t even know existed. To me, it sounds like there’s a whole lot more to gain than there is to lose in this scenario.

American Express’s adaptability exemplifies their ability to prove that old dogs really can learn new tricks. But it shouldn’t matter if you’re an old dog or a new dog. If the tricks cause your business to grow, then they’re really not tricks at all. They’re modern business models we should all get behind.

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