Monday, August 11, 2008

"In our corporate DNA"

Yesterday while getting my car serviced, I noticed that Toyota's brochure about its latest vehicles says on the back that "Moving Forward is in our DNA," and became annoyed. "X is in our corporate DNA" has become an incredibly popular marketing buzzphrase lately, and I've heard it said for some value of X in almost every vendor presentation I've heard this year. My thought yesterday was that I don't really care if X is in the genotype if it isn't expressed in the phenotype. If the company really wants to make the point that X is a core competency or value, saying "it's in our DNA" isn't really an accurate way of putting it.

So this morning I did a search to see if any biologists have commented on this buzzphrase, and was pleased to see that Keith Robison commented on it last December:
The question posed is this: what do companies asking this really mean, or more specifically what might it mean that they don't intend (very Dilbert-esque). Presumably they are trying to make a statement about deeply embedded values, but what does it really mean to have something in your DNA? For example, do they mean to imply:
  • A lot of our company is unfathomable to the human mind
  • There's a lot of redundancy here
  • Often we often repeat ourselves often repeatedly, often repeating repetitiously.
  • We retain bits of those who invade our corporate DNA, though with not much rhyme or reason
  • A lot of pieces of the organization resemble decayed portions of other pieces of our organization
  • Some pieces of our organization are non-functional, though they closely resemble functional pieces of related organizations
  • Most of our organization has no immediate impact on routine operations, or emergency ones
  • Most of our organization has no immediate obvious purpose, if any
  • Our corporate practices are not the best designable, but rather reflect an accumulation of historical accidents
Now, many of these statements may well be true about a given company, but is that what you really want to project?
This gives me some great ideas on how to respond the next time I hear a vendor use the phrase.


rushmc said...

The reason they do this, of course, is that for the majority of their audience/customer base, referencing DNA is akin to referencing magic (a corollary to Clarke's 3rd Law being that in our current society, virtually all technology and science is "sufficiently advanced" to be opaque to the average person). There have been numerous such buzzwords used over the years. Think of references to "rocket science," "brain surgery," and the near infinite capabilities attributed to "computers."

Good job picking apart the inappropriateness of the reference!

James Hanley said...

Great post, and thanks to Keith Robison. I'd say "Our corporate practices are not the best designable, but rather reflect an accumulation of historical accidents" isn't what is intended, but is probably the one that most accurately applies to most companies.