Andrew Hill

It’s 60 years since James Watson and Francis Crick published their model of the structure of DNA in the journal Nature. No better time, then, to eradicate the use of the expression by smug business leaders, as in “It’s in our DNA” or “It’s in the company’s DNA”.

The origins of its corporate use are a little obscure, but it may have started with Gareth Morgan’s 1986 book Images of Organization, which laid out eight metaphors through which people think about organisations, including as a machine, as a political system and as an organism – hence “organisational DNA”. Fair enough, but the use and abuse of the term has bloomed in recent years: I delved into the archive and found only about 100 instances of the two sentences above in the 10 years from 1995 (it does crop up in a 1996 Dilbert album – a sure advance warning that a phrase is becoming management-speak), but more than 550 in the past year alone. Read more