Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
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    Welcome to a Silicon Valley State of Mind, thoughts tips and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "Silicon Valley's Top Information Strategist."

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Silicon Valley State of Mind

Tips, thoughts, and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "The Science of Success."

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Posted by on in Innovation

Scientists have now discovered a method for storing massive amounts of data in DNA. No, IT hasn’t invented yet another acronym for us to learn, I’m talking about actual Deoxyribonucleic Acid, the same macromolecules responsible for carrying all the genetic coding for all living organisms. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, researchers have encoded a comic book (text and illustrations) onto engineered DNA strands, and have successfully decoded the strands back to the original text (an important test for usability!). Although a pricey flash drive can store about 250 billion bytes of data on a device the size of your thumb, that’s no match for DNA which can store at least 1000 times more data in the same space.

Of course, nobody’s running out to by DNA devices just yet, but who knows what the future holds? If it’s in your company’s DNA (pun intended) you might know what the future holds, or at least make a good run at shaping it. People now are trying to compare solid-state technology (e.g. flash drives) against the emerging DNA technology. There will of course be advances in solid state technology to meet the voracious appetite of data consumers which doubles every couple of years. Now with renewed possibilities for DNA storage, there will hopefully be advances in making the research more conducive to practical use.

It would be a great mistake for innovators to put DNA technology in the same category at solid-state technology. This is trying to solve an old problem with a new method. It’s one approach, but it’s boring, uncreative, and has only limited value. This thinking won’t build an innovative, breakthrough that brings a decisive competitive advantage. Doritos was a breakthrough, and still one of my favorite snacks. Ranch-flavored Doritos are pretty good, but not nearly as remarkable. Southwest Jalapeño Guacamole Doritos are silly—by this time all the value has evaporated and they’re just giving the people in New Product Development something to do. And, don’t get me started on Taco Bell.

Instead, consider looking for properties of the new technology that open up new possibilities. This concept sits at the heart of information innovation. For instance, DNA not only has dense storage capacity, but also has the ability to replicate and mutate rapidly. This could be used to solve complex problems that traditional computers cannot solve today. This is a quick idea off the top of my head, imagine what a concentrated exploration might uncover.

It all starts with asking the right questions, and committing your organization to finding an answer. You must be able to ask bold questions to get bold results. A breakthrough technology deserves a bold company to innovate a breakthrough product. Is it in your company’s DNA to rise to the challenge?

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