Can management science unlock the corporate genome?

No doubt we have all heard that a chimpanzee’s genetic makeup differs to humans by a factor of some small percentage. According to lead researcher Morris Goodman, at Wayne State University, Detroit, “…99.4% of the most critical DNA sites are identical in human and chimp genes”. Yet clearly there are significant differences between the two species.

Similarly, the base genetic code for many organic substances is highly similar. Literally, comparing apples to oranges (!), reveals that their DNA are remarkably similar (Scott A. Sandford of the NASA Ames Research Center), fueling speculation that it is theoretically feasible to transform an apple into an orange, by means of genetic engineering.

This begs the question as to whether any of the remarkable breakthroughs in the field of genetics could potentially  be applied to the field of management science? Why do corporations that essentially do the very same things (manufacture, market, sell, invoice, collect revenues, account for dollars, hire/fire, etc.) behave so differently? Why are some corporations wildly successful whilst others behave like chimpanzees (metaphorically speaking!)?

Recent genetic research reveals that although our genetic makeup is indeed very similar to a chimp, it’s a question of where the genetic differences lie.

According to Professor Svante Paabo, from the Max Planck Institute, Leipzig, Germany; “we….looked at genes in the brain of chimpanzees, and when we compare them (to humans) the surprising finding is that we actually find quite a lot of differences. In any particular part of the brain, about 10% of our gene activity differs from those of chimpanzees”.

So, it’s where the differences lie, that’s critically important. Some base organic components are very similar but some critical components (e.g. brain components, certain sensory organs, etc.), are indeed very different.

Perhaps we can relate this to corporations. We can hypothesize that indeed some (very) high percentage of corporate functions are exactly the same – supported by the fact that many common processes (payroll, recruiting, manufacturing, etc.) are indeed outsourced.

If only we could better understand, at the genetic level, corporate functions. We would then have a significantly important tool to aid in differentiating those functions that make corporations unique (i.e. differentiators). We would also be able to better understand the non-differentiating functions in order to potentially outsource those, or simply “acquire” detailed corporate genetic blueprints, to embed industry best (common) practices.

At the conceptual level this appears to be feasible and very beneficial. Where the similarity with natural science ends, is in the geneticists ability to literally inspect and contrast individual genes (and their sequence) scientifically, at the molecular level. This is something we have not been able to do in the corporate environment because of an absence of formal theory or management science.

Our best management science consists of artistic “process flow” maps, which are typically;

  • “informal”
  • insufficiently detailed
  • missing critical business operational data
  • (grossly) superficial

and most disturbingly,

  • not grounded in any formal theory (to speak of).

The geneticist in contrast, has a precise, formal and detailed scientific and theoretical foundation to aid in mapping biological genes. The precise atomic makeup of DNA/RNA is well understood and accepted.

Understanding the inner workings and genetic makeup of the corporation remains somewhat of a dark art. Of course there are exceedingly valuable theoretical contributions pertaining to management science (to name any of the many, would be a disservice) but interestingly, most of these contributions deal with market forces or the science of human dynamics (corporate transformations, change management, organization structure, statistical analysis, etc.). There is a virtual vacuum in the field of understanding the (atomic) elements that make a corporation tick.

Much of current management science also entails the understanding resource consumption, budget or cost/revenue projections (using spreadsheets, PowerPoint or text!). Imagine using these “blunt instruments” (technologies) to map out the human genome – probably impossible. Yet this is what we teach our aspiring leaders at business schools.

Having such a capability in the corporate arsenal would be literally a “game changer”. Imagine being able, at the most “atomic” or “molecular” level, to map out a literal genetic blueprint of corporate operations; to analyze and diagnose corporations with this new science. Indeed, to build and share a documented “corporate genome” – elucidating the (say) 90% similarities of corporations whilst focusing on genetically re-sequencing/remediating the 10%, to truly differentiate the corporation.

Further, imagine applying formal analytical techniques like Six Sigma to this wealth of detailed and scientifically grounded business data. This would indeed be truly disruptive technology.

Corporate Gene Theory

Based upon a body of over 50 years of pure and applied research, as well as solid practical attempts at re-thinking this important discipline, a theoretical (but surprisingly intuitive) business framework theory, augmented by a formal rule based methodology that enables a consistent and accurate description of a business at its most fundamental (atomic) level has been devised

Known as the Business Modeling Language or BML, it has been successfully applied at a number of private and public sector corporations and the results to date are extremely promising.

The base research entailed the abstraction of elemental components (or repeating “atomic” patterns) by literally analyzing thousands of business operation renderings, over many years, in a diversity of corporate and organization environments. Eventually, a definitive and irrefutable pattern was isolated.  Namely that (every) corporation appears to be based upon the following common atomic elements:

  1. Business Activity (required to accomplish the corporate mission or purpose, namely the Why?)
  2. Business Responsibility (indicating activity responsibilities)
  3. Geography (indicating locations where activity is performed)
  4. Information (required to perform activity or resulting from the activity)
  5. Temporal triggers (indicating when activities must be performed)
  6. Sequence of the above (how the above atomic elements interrelate – the business genetic sequence).

Synthesizing and the above into a more formal theoretical foundation, translates into the following (atomic) dimensions:

  1. What? (activity) – (WA)
  2. Who?(responsibility) – (WH)
  3. Where? (location/geography) – (WR)
  4. When? (temporal governance) – (WN)
  5. Which? (information) – (WI)
  6. How? (are the above interrelated and sequenced) – (HW).

This presents a very convenient framework for better understanding business operations. Each of the base elements are “testable” and business operations can be categorized as one (and only one) of the framework elements. This is akin to classifying a biologic gene into one of the four nucleotides: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). From these four base nucleotides, genetic similarity and entirely diverse genetic combinations are possible, just as with our five business elements, combining these in different operational sequences will result in entirely different corporate behavior and operation.

The above 5 elements and the interrelationship thereof, appear to be “intuitively obvious”. If one accepts these dimensions as “stable” and “logically relevant”, it is a relatively simple matter to synthesize business operations into the appropriate (correct) framework “container”.

To facilitate and formalize the translation of business operations into the genetic framework, a set of formal rules has been developed. These rules unambiguously guide the practitioner through the translation of unstructured business operations/processes, into the framework. The rules ensure consistency, independent verification and most importantly; a sound scientific basis for the practitioner. There are currently approximately 60 rules that have been identified to facilitate this translation process.

This approach has shown the potential exists to provide incredibly detailed, precise and accurate industry genetic blueprints of a magnitude and relevance never seen before and in so doing, genetically map the “standard” functions of all corporations.


Understanding the complex operations of 21st Century corporations has never been more necessary.  The demands of modern industry are unrelenting and corporations are becoming increasingly complex in order to cope with unprecedented changes in their external environments.

We have reached the point where the viability of historical (20th century) business definition theory is questionable and unarguably, unscientific and hence redundant. The absence of a relevant and meaningful theoretical framework, or “science”, is a major impediment to corporate understanding and a larger impediment to a corporation’s growth, market share and sustainability in an ever more competitive world.

Today’s demanding business environment requires a major re-think of the basics. Fortunately, there is much evidence to suggest that the BML may be a significant evolution in our path to mapping and better understanding the “corporate genome”.

Showing 3 Comments »

  1. Cedric Tyler has ingeniously approached an area of business where the rapid and constant evolution of business today has rendered many organizations vulnerable, as guidelines are often outdated or blurred. The application of BML quite clearly instills a process which links progressive applied structure as a precursor to successful evaluation and foundational systems implementation to measurable success.
    Refreshing and brilliant!

    Comment by Jenny-May Hudson — 29 August 2011 @ 8:32 pm

  2. Great work Cedric. The moment business leaders embrace the BML approach they will, for the first time, be empowered to truly transform their businesses to it’s full potential.

    Comment by Gerhard Olivier — 2 September 2011 @ 9:24 am

  3. Very good! I like the statement that many a business definition is a “dark art”, and have become irrelevant. The dimensions of what / who / where / when / which / how are stable dimensions, and underpins many approaches to understanding. 5 of these dimensions are even tought as part of military science to military leaders from the lowest ranks, to battle commander levels.

    But I would like to add back a “dark science” dimension to be modeled after Sedric’s proposed BML has been applied to business, and maybe even before that. That is the dimension of “Why”. In the ever elusive area of motivation of employees, and other stakeholders, ignition of the communal soul of the business, and the spirits of the individuals, it is increasingly important to know why my business is doing who at it is, and what my role is to achieve that.

    For instance, for South Africans, is it to turn a continent around? Is It that my company actively supports a Green business approach? Is it that my personal calling is to erect fathership back into families, communities? Can I use my work as a platform to achieve both?

    Jéan Roux

    Comment by Jean Roux — 5 September 2011 @ 5:18 pm

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