Sometimes I see sentences like "At [company name] excellent customer service is in our DNA". Obviously the writer isn't literally referring to DNA, but using it as a metaphor.

When did DNA as a metaphor came into use? Did we have another understanding of it at that time? (The understanding that [almost] everything of ourselves is determines by our DNA.)

  • For more examples of this - often in ridiculous and funny situations - I recommend searching for Private Eye's 'DNA Samples' which chronicles some of the worst examples of this trend in action. Aug 10, 2016 at 22:16
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    DNA of a company = the founding principles of that company, what makes the company what it is... seems like a perfectly reasonable usage.
    – Catija
    Aug 10, 2016 at 22:16
  • @Catija That is true, but it is still anthropomorphising this company and can often seem strange or out of place. It has also reached such levels in the 'slightly pretentious consultant' community that it has become a cliché Aug 10, 2016 at 22:20
  • @Catija Sorry, I wasn't trying to imply that DNA as a metaphor is not reasonable used here. :) I'm just curious about when it came into use as a metaphore.
    – Kevin
    Aug 10, 2016 at 22:22

1 Answer 1


Corporate DNA:

  • In a 1997 book, Gareth Morgan defined the corporate DNA metaphor as the "visions, values, and sense of purpose that bind an organization together" to enable individuals to "understand and absorb the mission and challenge of the whole enterprise".[3] Lindgreen and Swaen define it as an "organization's organisation's culture and strategy.


From Macmillan Dictionary:

  • More recently, DNA has taken a further step into the mainstream by acquiring a metaphorical use. We say that a particular characteristic or talent is “in someone’s DNA” or “part of their DNA” as a way of emphasizing that this is a fundamental aspect of their nature, and part of their DNA” as a way of emphasizing that this is a fundamental aspect of their nature, and unlikely ever to change.

  • We read, for example, of a British conservative politician, that “Euroscepticism is stamped in his DNA”, or that the Boston Red Sox are “the baseball team that is a part of the city’s DNA”. The DNA metaphor is especially favoured by organizations seeking to promote a positive corporate image. If your mission statement claims that some desirable quality is “part of your DNA”, that’s a lot more impressive than simply saying that it’s something you are committed to.

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