Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA)

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

It’s In Our DNA!

How often have we heard that statement? Personally, I hear it quite frequently. Often, it’s used as a way of excusing a person’s actions: “I can’t help it, it’s in my DNA.” I also hear it used as an indictment of another person who is reluctant try something new.

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA), a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information. Often thought of as the fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable.


Sometimes, it’s used to reinforce our culture: “Customer service is in our DNA!” And, as the above definition implies, we normally think of DNA as being unchangeable. And up until recently, that has pretty much been the case.


Now, however, we have “CRISPR” (pronounced “crisper”). CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which are the hallmark of a bacterial defense system that forms the basis for CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology. We now know how to edit DNA—of plants and animals. We may not know precisely what we need/want to edit, or what the total effect might be, but we have a tool to edit our genome.

Back to Business

Om Malik recently opined that “Companies, like people, don’t change.” As you have likely guessed by now, I am about to disagree with Om. It’s true that if we do not put in sufficient effort as human beings, we will blindly follow what our DNA tells us. We will overeat sugar and fat because we evolved to consume that high energy food to survive. But we don’t live in that world anymore. Thus we humans have difficulty changing our eating habits. Yet some of us are successful in changing eating habits. Others overcome exceedingly difficult physical and mental addictions (like smoking, alcohol, gambling). I believe people can and do change. Now, DNA can be changed in new ways beyond selective breeding (which humans have been doing “forever”.)

Businesses change too. There are many instances where a company culture has changed for the better. I think of Ford Motor Company under Alan Mulally. I’m also reminded of Barry-Wehmiller under Bob Chapman. Since companies comprise people, it stands to reason that if necessary, companies can also change.


We humans do not want to wait for natural evolution to change our DNA. Cancer, Type One Diabetes and other diseases need gene editing now. We will not settle for eons-long natural selection processes. When we believe we have sufficient understanding, we will edit DNA in the germ line so that the change will be passed to future generations.

Similarly, our businesses cannot afford to wait for change to happen at the slow pace we’ve enjoyed in the past. Today, the pace of change continues to accelerate and technology is disrupting every industry. The future belongs to companies that are hyper-adaptable.

Science to the Rescue?

So what’s the business equivalent of CRISPR? How can we encourage people and companies to embrace change? Perhaps it is neuroscience. There are signs that humans can change if they have sufficient, believable data. For me, and increasingly for many of my friends and colleagues, neuroscience is providing that data. Information on how we are “wired” appears to help many folks stop and think about choices rather than just responding to emotions. The emotions are, of course, still present. If we are aware of emotions, acknowledge them and accept them, we can choose how to respond.

There is a significant difference though. With CRISPR-Cas9, the DNA is physically changed immediately. With our neuroscience solution, we are not immediately modifying our brain’s “wiring.” Over time, we will create new habits of responding to internal and external threats. And that is the re-wiring we will need to survive in the business world. Are you prepared to lead your teams into the brave new world of re-wiring our collective brains?