What I Found Out Using Genetic Analysis Techniques On Start-Ups

A curious but incidental fact about myself is that I’m an identical twin.

On the face of it, you could be forgiven for assuming that identical twins, with identical DNA, would grow up to be ‘identical’. When my brother and I were born we looked so similar that our parents had to colour code us with red and blue sharpies to tell us apart. Thirty-two years on, however, we now look like brothers, but we certainly don’t look identical. We sound different, we look different, we have different interests and have grown up to do very different things with our lives.

Despite having the exact same DNA, something in the execution of our ‘blueprints’ over time caused two quite different results. So much so that anyone that saw us together today wouldn’t pick that we were twins just by looking at us.

The question is, why did we not grow up more similar considering we were both building off the same plans, and what does this have to do with business?

Another curious, but independently incidental, fact about myself is that I studied genetics at university. I had a particular interest in the field of epigenetics, which looks at the effect that both the environment and other genes have on what a gene ‘makes’. We use epigenetics to explain why the same DNA can result in different outcomes when exposed to different environmental factors and it explains why identical twins can grow up to be very different, despite having the same DNA.

This all became relevant last month when I was trying to assess the impact working out of a shared space was having on a business. The hypothesis was that the physical environment this business was operating in was influencing its ability to execute. As one might expect, the exercise of mapping and predicting the cause and effect the environment was having on this business proved to be a real challenge. The curious thing was that the exercise started to resemble how an epigeneticist might tackle a biological pathway problem. By trying to explain and predict the effect of one variable, I was presented with a downstream network of possible interactions that could possibly impact how the business operates. This resulted in a complicated network of interactions that resembled an epigenetic pathway analysis.

It led me to think that just as the environment plays a decisive role in gene expression, so too does it have a role in how business plans are executed. It isn’t a stretch to assume that the environment a business operates in, both physically (geography, office space, etc) and intangible (the market), influences the network of important internal and external interactions within a business. What this effect is and the severity of such an effect is harder to determine.

From my exercise with this business I have reached the following conclusions:

1) Businesses have a network of interactions that are influenced by the environment in which they operate.

2) These interactions have an effect on how plans are executed.

3) Predicting the severity or outcome of this environmental impact is difficult without structured experimentation.

4) Mapping these networked interactions is an incredibly powerful tool to highlight constraints within a business.

A fascinating study would be to give two identical teams the same business plan and put them in different ‘environments’ and measure the differences in execution. My hypothesis is that the results would start to mirror what has happened with my brother and I. They may start out identically, but over time will diverge due to the differences in their interactions with their local environments.

As someone that preaches continual, measured improvement, I’m now fascinated by the idea of measuring the effect environments have on businesses. It may be a new way to improve how we think about the way we work, especially for small start-ups. Who would have thought a degree in genetics may be useful in business?!

About the author — Aidan Kenealy

My mission is to help those with high growth businesses realise their vision for success. I draw from the unique lessons learned growing EMGN to help founders and CEOs get the best out of what their businesses can be.

If you would like to discuss how I can help you and your business — please reach out via LinkedIn or email aidan@hiov.co.nz

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