Can your company invent the future — not fight to prevent it?
Big companies often let their best assets become liabilities.
Experience is a great asset, but it helps companies dominate old businesses, not new ones. How can anyone have experience at something that hasn’t been done before? In fact, people experienced in doing things in old ways will bristle at change. Even doctors, who are exceptionally bright and research-oriented, have a hard time with new techniques and technology. Studies have found that doctors tend to keep doing what they learned to do in medical school and in their residencies. It takes 15 years for established science to permeate medical practices, even for something as simple as having patients take an aspirin a day if they are at risk of heart attack.
Walgreens provides a great example of the power of rethinking from scratch. The pharmacy chain is claiming a new position in healthcare as the world of medicine is reinvented.
Like many iconic businesses, Walgreens started with a fundamental reconception — but that was a long time ago, not long after Charles Walgreen moved to Chicago in 1893 at age twenty and, in a gesture symbolic of a fresh start, took the last pennies out of his pocket and threw them into the river. After working in a pharmacy for close to a decade, Walgreen bought a drugstore on the South Side and revolutionized the concept. He widened the aisles, improved lighting, and broadened the selection, including pots and pans. He emphasized personal service—and was clever about making sure customers noticed. When someone called in a prescription, Walgreen said it loudly and distinctly so an assistant could fill it while Walgreen stayed on the phone. Walgreen would chat up the caller to keep her on the phone long enough for the assistant to arrive with the prescription— customers talked about how Walgreen was so fast he’d deliver your order before you could even hang up the phone. Going beyond soda fountains, whose cold concoctions were popular only during summer, Walgreen installed a lunch counter that stayed busy year-round. (During Prohibition, his pharmacies were known to stock whisky behind the counter.) By 1929, the one Walgreens store had turned into 525.