Business genome for behavioral variety

Pieter Wisse

Is the idea of the business genome just hyperbole? Or can the analogy with the human genome be productively applied? Indeed, as requirements for peak performance and competitive dynamics increase, the business genome can focus almost continuous redesign.

As you sit reading these words, I'll assume every now and then you will lift your head to look at your favorite picture. It has a place against the wall where you can see it whenever you're thinking over something. It sounds perfectly natural to say that your picture occupies a particular state. It is certainly beyond dispute that it doesn't move while you look at it. But why not describe the picture in terms of motion? Yes, even when it hangs completely motionless it can nevertheless be said to move. Its movement may be given a value. When it so to speak moves without motion, the corresponding value is zero.

The point of this contrived example is to demonstrate that an orientation at dynamics is far more powerful. A static view of the world only shows you, indeed, a series of pictures. Your next task is always to establish how states are connected. However, reckoning with process as a matter of principle widens your scope. For a process already implies connections. At the moment, your favorite picture probably doesn't really move in that position. But it could, etcetera, etcetera.

We would most likely grow crazy attempting to understand every experience from a dynamic viewpoint. As it turns out, we just might go equally crazy when we persist in viewing everything from a static perspective. Now there is of course nothing new to applying dynamic concepts to business. Isn't process a prime example? It is, but the dynamic approach may be applied more radically.

As a starting point, the concept should be taken that reflects the most comprehensive change through human intervention we can think of. Examples might be the building of a pyramid, organizing a presidential election, etcetera. How do we call them by a generic name? It could be anything, for it is a matter of convention. Here, I settle on project.

Having a name for the most complex of changes, why not apply it to simpler motions, too? Pulling up a brick wall around your garden is also a project. And as the example of the picture on the wall indicates, irrelevant variables should not be eliminated for decreasing complexity. They appear at any level. Where they are not applicable, it is indicated as such.

With a single concept be it called project, activity, or whatever to cover all change, a large variety is much simpler to model. Building a pyramid, pulling up a garden wall, and laying a brick are all considered projects. Essential is that both pyramid building and pulling up a wall may include brick-laying. But is it really the same project? Yes and no. Some aspects of laying a brick while building a pyramid are undoubtedly similar to cementing the next brick on your garden wall. Other aspects will be different.

For controlling variety, the differences must be unambiguously accommodated. It follows that brick-laying as a subproject of pyramid building is attributed a performance or, more generally speaking, behavior that is different from the brick-laying subproject of constructing the garden wall.

Recently, workers in molecular biology discovered a most spectacular mechanism for variety control. Intense research efforts have been directed at mapping the human genome. A race was on between a privately and a publicly funded project team. Both teams announced early in the year 2001 the near completion of their task.1 They considered it an especially surprising result that the number of genes in homo sapiens is much smaller than originally estimated. The explanation is that one and the same gene may exhibit differential behavior. And contexts make the differences.

From the vantage point of Metapattern,2 the limited number of genes is a corroboration of its principles. Completely unaware of research in molecular biology, I developed Metapattern as a technique for conceptual information modeling. Another label for its application area is knowledge representation. Metapattern's core concept is ..., indeed, context.

Now Metapattern also suggests the idea of the business genome. As with human genes, from a small number of elementary business objects a surprisingly large variety of behavior may be generated. The business genome approach offers increased flexibility at decreased costs. For what the subprojects both called brick-laying have in common as generally applicable may be viewed as relevant behavior in a project at-its-most-general. The result of such modeling is that brick-laying appears in three different contexts, with each context determining specific behavior that goes by that same name.

Visit for more information on Metapattern and KnitbITs.




1. Vermij, Peter Klein maar fijn In: NRC Handelsblad, February 17th, 2001.
2. Wisse, Pieter Metapattern: context and time in information models, Addison-Wesley, 2001.



February 2001, web edition 2003.