Companies Are Like People

Originally published on The Huffington Post UK

The Human Genome Project completed in 2003 gave us the miraculous ability to understand who we are through our DNA. And thanks to enterprising entrepreneurs, we now have tools to explore our own DNA and learn what our genes say about us: our origins, our coloring, our tastes and our propensity for certain diseases. Armed with this understanding, we can construct a lifestyle that is aligned with our genes to help us fight off the maladies that afflict our DNA type. 

Know your DNA and be a better you.

But just as people can understand much of who we are from our DNA, so too can companies. Like people, companies are organisms that reflect their creators, their environments, their obstacles, and their strengths. They carry a core instruction set that informs the actions and outcomes of their work. In short, they have DNA. Not chemical, biological DNA, of course, but what I call corporate DNA.

While human DNA is ineffably complex, its business equivalent is far simpler, made up of just three kinds of companies. That’s it: only three types of companies in the world, each with its own distinctive DNA. Just as I look the way I look because of my DNA and you look the way you do because of yours, companies are what they are because of their DNA, and every organization expresses the DNA of one of these types. 

Although it is less complex, each DNA type resembles its human counterpart: Mothers are customer-oriented companies, Mechanics are product-oriented companies, and Missionaries are concept-oriented companies. After having consulted for more than 30 years with hundreds of companies to help them find their optimal position in the market and tell their stories compellingly, I’ve come to the conclusion that all companies fit into one of these DNA types. I’ve also learned that knowing which type you are is extremely helpful in developing a go-to-market strategy that sticks.

All living species are influenced by a mixture of DNA and environment, and when it comes to corporate DNA, companies are no different. DNA affects a company’s culture; its structure; how it measures success; how it hires, trains, and rewards employees; how it allocates resources; how it frames its narrative; and how it decides what brand to send out into the world. DNA is the single biggest factor when it comes to identifying a company’s role and relevance in the market and determining its optimal positioning.

The key to maximizing competitive advantage is to pinpoint your corporate DNA and use it to your advantage, just like an athlete. The idea is to use your DNA to position your company in the market so that you can win. Your DNA and how it is reflected in your position should lie at the center of every single decision you make, from your go-to-market strategy, to the skill set you seek in your hires, to the way you invest precious resources. It is the foundation for all external messages and campaigns, from branding, to sales strategy, to web copy, to brochure design.

Knowing what you’re made of helps you make something of it.