Culture Discipline Purpose Reflection Strategy

It’s in your DNA

How DNA matters in the world of business and sports. And what happen when you don’t respect your DNA.

Have you ever heard of the term ‘it’s in our DNA?’

Of course, you did.

Whatever language you master and speak, I’m sure there’s also a version in your culture.

It’s the translation of the scientific meaning of DNA as your genetic code into a real-life application, such as running a business.

For human beings, DNA is unique. It changes as we age because of our bodies, but it’s a process you can hardly influence. 

DNA and brains are not the same. Brains can be rewired with practice. 

When someone tells you that’s in their DNA, often in a business context, it means that it’s unique to them, it’s almost impossible to change, and it most likely has resulted in a lot of success.

It’s about values, beliefs, principles, ways of working, business models, purpose, etc. 

You need to understand your DNA truly.

Blockbuster’s DNA was not the video cassette or CD business but entertainment.

Had Blockbuster understood that, they might have still been alive.

Selling beautifully designed electronic products is in Apple’s DNA. It’s about the design, not the machines as such. 

Mayo Clinic’s DNA is offering outstanding and progressive healthcare. 

Volvo’s DNA is its excellent safety record, while German cars often have a perception of speed, durability, and excellence.

When companies go wrong because leaders think they can change the DNA, they often leave the rut later by ‘going back to our roots.’

Sometimes that’s too late, however.

For the record, I’m not saying changing the core of a business can’t be done.

Some banks are successfully transforming from traditional financial service providers into digital powerhouses.

But they can only do so successfully by understanding their legacy and the genetic code of their DNA.

And respect it.

When the desired change results from the leader’s ego or the desire to make more money, it almost always fails.

Ego and money are not the right reasons.

The right reasons are that you see new opportunities that require you to transform your company to remain competitive or even to be the disruptor.

Although being a disruptor is something you would have already in your DNA.

You should find a business model to remain true to your original DNA when the transformation is needed.

You won’t become a disruptor when you’re predominantly a laggard.

This story is because my football team Ajax has lost its way.

Ajax’s DNA is to play attractive football that entertains.

That’s why I’m a fan.

And if they don’t, I’m not interested. It’s about attractive football and entertainment.

The strategy is (was) to have the best talent football academy in the world, to provide talent at a young age a chance to play in the highest professional team, and to sell these players when they have demonstrated their value.

A few years ago, they had an exceptional group of talent. 

They performed well in the Champion’s League for a few years.

Then they became greedy. 

They wanted more of that success; they wanted to be consistently in the Champions League. They wanted to be part of the European top every year.

They wanted the money. 

And they thought they could do so by ignoring their DNA, which is growing talent and playing attractive football.

Impaired by the success of a few years with exceptional talents. 

They started buying and paying players from outside more and more.

Ignoring the talents from within, who left at a younger age because they didn’t feel they would get a chance to perform.

They relied on a few individuals in management and some very expensive players who did not prove their worth.

This year the model collapsed.

Because any model that is not true to the DNA of a company will eventually collapse.

It’s proven over and over again. 

Talent did not come through. B players were bought for too much money because they knew the club would pay. People true to the DNA of the club left. People got fired because of bad performance or integrity issues. 

It’s chaos.

And the only thing you can do when there’s chaos is to go back to your DNA and start over again.

With the right people on top who understand this.

Your turn: What’s your DNA?

Do more of what makes you happy!


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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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