Future Proof: Genetically Modified Teams

Have you ever had a colleague or employee that just didn’t fit? You know what I mean, when they just don’t seem to “get” things the way you “get” them. I have and recently is occurred to me that they really did see the world from a different perspective. And I don’t mean they had different opinions, I mean their brain seemed wired in entirely different ways.

What I enjoyed, they feared. What I desired repulsed them. And the way I saw the everyday issues that faced our business, compared to the way they perceived them, was so different it was as though we were experiencing completely different things. It was like we were from different planets.

After another exasperated conversation with an employee in question, a different member of my team (who happens to be a geneticist) suggested her colleague lacked the variation on the D4 Dopamine Receptor Gene that my geneticist has long ago determined the rest of our company to possess.

I was like, “what?”

She went on to explain to me that about 25 per cent of the population have a variation on a dopamine producing gene that made them seek novelty, act impulsively and embrace risk. It is the very same gene that has been associated with ADHD and thrill seeking adrenaline junkies.

She was certain that almost all of our team had that thrill seeking variation and that anyone who did not, simply would not fit in.

What went through my brain next may indeed horrify you. It certainly horrified me.

“I am going to genetically test my potential new hires from here on in,” I declared. “And I don’t mean for ‘aptitude’. I am going to genetically test them. If you don’t have this novelty seeking gene you’re out of the running.”

Needless to say she was a little taken back. As a geneticist she was well aware of the power and potential of genetics, but she happened to also have very strong opinions about privacy.

You’ll be pleased to know I recanted almost immediately, not because of privacy though, but because I do not support the ‘reductionist theory’ of human potential that suggests our achievements in life are pre-determined by our genetic make-up. Influenced sure, but pre-determined, no.

But this little internal debate got me thinking. Is it only a matter of time before we are allowed to do such tests? Sure, in most countries it is technically illegal to discriminate on such grounds but most legislation I have been looking at contains exceptions to capturing such information.

For instance, corporate wellness programs designed to help employees take care of themselves are an acceptable way to obtain genetic information. Now it is illegal to use that information in a discriminatory way, but once it is out there it is surely easy for someone to be influenced by the results?

Many companies already psychometrically test people . Why not extend this to much more fundamental issues such as whether they are genetically wired to take risks and push the envelope or not?

A challenging question, don’t you think?

And I don’t just mean because we will all want the risk-takers. 2008 saw the destruction of personal wealth on an immense scale. Why? Because a too many chief executives and senior executives took insane risks.

Perhaps we should be testing those with whom we entrust our life’s savings and the well-being of the global economy?

Should we be allowed to genetically test our employees so we can create the best “genetically balanced” teams?

What about testing CEOs and boards? They hold such immense power over the well-being of so many others, shouldn’t we use ALL means available to us to put the right people in these positions?

Do you believe it is inevitable that this will happen anyway?

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Originally posted October 5, 2009 on the Sydney Morning Herald

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  • alan mccrindle

    I have two issues. One is related to risk taking and the second related to genetics as sufficient measure for assessing employee fit with functional fit.

    Lets start with risk

    How many employed people are "risk" takers?

    How many people who do MBA's are creative or risk takers? If they were risk takers they wouldn't have bothered with MBA's. Did you bother to get one? My guess is that you didn't.

    The guys who created the CDO's etc. that blew up weren't risk takers. They passed the risk onto pension funds etc. which meant that the risk eventually ended up with Joe six pack. Moreover they were using other peoples money and had were their pay was based on short term incentives with no claw back provision. These are strategic level thinkers who are good at innovating around the rules.

    Now to the concept of genetics as a sufficient measure of fit for a role.

    The idea of matching the genetics, or nature, of an organism to the environmental characteristics which best support its functioning is actual quite old – at least 2500 years old and stems back to Ayurveda – the first version of complex adaptive systems thinking I know of. It is a great win win idea for both the person and the organisation and you can work out the "genetics" without a traditional genetics test.

    My observation is that by itself it is insufficient to measure total fit because it ignores at least two other uncorrelated variables that relate to fitness – the values and world view/stage of development of a person and their preferred lens for viewing the world. These are well understood in the integral world and you can learn more here. ( http://integrallife.com/ )

    For example, People's values and their sense of morals change as they move through developmental levels and their world view expands. A person with an integral world view and values would not be motivated by the values and relatively limited world view that underpin the free market system as we know it.

  • Darren Ryan

    My Wife is in genetics so i know enough to sound like i know what i am talking about. I think eventually it could be used but right now the industry is too young. we know of a few genes that are related to breast cancer but not all genes related to it. Could it not be the same for the risk taking gene? i think until we have a good map of the human genome it will be too difficult to discriminate and win the court battle.

  • samster28

    Very interesting article. I will be following this with interest.

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