KCHKNA DNA: Our Philosophy, Our Culture!

Published in honor of World DNA day

What is a code?

To code means to represent information using symbols that we had agreed to earlier. For example, we could agree that when I raise my right hand it means “I am very, very happy” and if I clap twice it means “I am going to the market”. The two symbols are “raising my right hand” and “clapping twice”. Some of the reasons for using a code are: to simplify communication and to allow communication across large distances or across time. There are many codes in existence today. One famous one is the Morse Code which uses two symbols—represented visually by dashes and dots, or aurally by a long duration tone (equivalent to dash) and short duration tone (equivalent dot). An agreed-upon combination of these symbols is used to represent letters of the alphabet and the ten numerals of the (e.g. Arabic) numeral system (The numerals, 0,1,2, etc. are in fact also symbols that represent/encode the abstract mathematical objects called number—e.g. 1 represents the number 1.) These two Morse Code—dash and dot—symbols can then be used to encode any message we desire. To encode the word “KCHKNA” for example, we would use:

In Morse Codedash dot dashdash dot dash dotdot dot dot dotdash dot dashdash dotdot dash

Tip: On Android phones you can input characters using Morse Code. With the Google Virtual Keyboard, do so by going to “Languages”, choosing “English” and then scrolling to the right until you find the “Morse code” option

Human language is also a kind of code. We use an agreed-upon set of sounds to encode information. And while there are many human languages, there is ONE language that we all speak: the genetic code.

What is DNA?

Cells have to communicate with other cells and within themselves, too! For humans we use the code of language to, for example, issue an instruction such as “Stand up”. The listener understands because she knows the code. Likewise, the cell needs to talk using a language. The cell is continuously using a cryptic language to issue instructions about what proteins to produce in the body; these proteins can then be used for intracellular or intercellular communication, to build some structures in the body, or effect a change in a distant organ in the body.

 Proteins in the human body are made by chemically chaining together several amino acids (these are organic molecules). The human body uses about 22 amino acids to build its many proteins. 9 amino acids are called ‘essential’ because the body is not able to synthesize them by itself: so, it is essential that we ingest them. Often we do not directly consume amino acids; instead we consume proteins which the body then breaks down into its constituent amino acids.

Now, when all the amino acids are there, the cell needs to synthesize a specific protein. How does it tell the protein-making machinery (a key component being ribosome) to make a specific protein? The cell uses the genetic code to refer to specific amino acids.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecules are strung together in such a manner that they encode information. Just as we can code for a letter of the alphabet by arranging dashes and dots in one way (for Morse code), when DNA molecules are arranged in a specific way they can code for an amino acid. Instead of using just two symbols such as the dash and dot in Morse code, the genetic code consists of 4 symbols, referred to by their letters A, T, C, and G. Each amino acid is encoded by three of the four symbols. For example, the amino acid tryptophan is encoded by TGG.  There are other protein complexes in the cell that “understand” this language; they translate and execute the instruction. A region of DNA that codes for some protein or other functional unit (rather than just an amino acid) is generally called a gene, hence the term genetic code.

So while we may differ in the human languages we use, we all speak this one language called the genetic code!

Philosophy, culture and DNA

Any social grouping has what can be thought of as its DNA. This is the set of symbols used to communicate, the set of protocols and principles to be adhered to as well as the total sum of their knowledge, experiences, and wisdom. This is called the group’s philosophy. This philosophy then determines the group’s culture—that is what individual members or social functional units actually do (or not do).

Without prior agreements as to how to interpret symbols it is not possible to communicate and function as a unit. The cell issues instructions using the genetic code because of prior agreements as to how to interpret the symbols. Likewise, as a social unit (company) we must have a consensus as to what means what, what manner to behave, what rules of thumb to follow and more generally how to treat one another. Our emphasis on promoting a specific kind of culture does not imply this is the best culture or way of doing things. Not at all! (In fact, there is hardly any proof that one language is superior to another—it just happens that some languages manage to establish a stronger brand than others.) However, the important bit is to agree that this is how things would go. In other words, once we have agreed that our language  (and culture in general) consists of these symbols, those protocols and rules, everyone must acquiesce or else no (clear) communication or functional collaboration will happen.

What are some of our beliefs?

  1. You are not that important—at KCHKNA we believe in the power of not the individual but in how well they are connected to the rest of the team. We look at our organization as an organ or a system. Individual components make the system but the system itself is an emergent being that cannot be understood or fully appreciated by studying the individuals. What this means is that no matter how intelligent, how hardworking, how visionary one individual is is not the most important thing. Think perhaps of a heart cell. No one single heart cell has the ability to pump blood. And yet, together with all the others that make up the heart, these cells can now pump blood. We are organ, too. We function as a unit.
  2. You are that important—it is true that an individual heart cell cannot pump blood. However, it is equally true that without that individual heart cell, the heart is no longer the same. So an individual cell is indeed very important! Even more importantly, a collection of neuron cells will not pump blood. In other words while the connectedness is very  important, the type of individuals who are connected is of equal importance. Practically speaking this means that we do care about your individual quirks, dreams, and style. You are an invaluable part of this organ(isation)!
  3. Come for the people, work to pass time. Imagine you are with your best friend or another person whom you love spending time with. You can spend forever with this person just sitting side by side. But instead of just sitting around you decide to be doing something together—you decide to build a company, to advance your community, to bring love and positivity to the people who are around you. You do this not because you need to, but because you love being with the other person. This is not just metaphorical: it is what we strive to have our people experience. A large chunk of life is spent working so it doesn’t make sense that a large chunk of your life would be spent with people whom you don’t enjoy being with.
  4. Experiment. Experiment. Experiment. We are seekers of truth (the definition of which we agree on as a team) and in doing so we are willing to reexamine and adjust our worldview when presented with new data. We perform experiments as frequently as possible because we know there is more to discover, better things to come, better ways of doing things.

As a side note, communication devices that we use have one or many underlying protocols. When you buy a Wi-Fi capable device for example, this means that it has a microcontroller and other circuitry that implement the Wi-Fi protocol. The web clients we use to access the World Wide Web use the hypertext transfer protocol to talk to servers. When you have a USB device, it means that that device implements and thus understands the Universal Serial Bus protocol. The examples are too many to list! What is key to understand is that device manufacturers need to have first agreed on how to interpret the symbols in order for effective functioning of their devices to happen.

Philosophy and Technology

Human civilization has significantly advanced with innovations spanning a vast spectrum of industries. Researchers as well as entrepreneurs have created a world that was perhaps far from imaginable in the 20th century. From the way we live, travel and communicate to how we conduct business, what money is or means, a lot has changed—at least in some places! We should expect more changes because the world is still evolving and people all over the globe are still making innumerable discoveries. But underlying all this is a philosophy as to how humanity ought to evolve, what knowledge is worth seeking, what applications are worth developing, and so on.

A company’s philosophy is like its DNA. Alexander Leivesley pointed out in Huffington Post that, “Philosophy is not obsolete. Philosophy brings the important questions to the table and works towards an answer. It encourages us to think critically about the world.” The reason why a business exists is due to its DNA. This DNA is made up of the philosophy that underpins the actions of individuals. In other words, the culture is the outcome, a measurable property of a social grouping. The philosophy defines the culture and then the culture is manifested in the everyday actions and outcomes of the social group.

We strive to create a culture where people are genuinely and practically there for each other, but we cannot force people to behave in a specific way. We aim to create an environment where people can be caring, and yet give each individual the freedom for the specific actions they take to exhibit that care.

Our Goal at KCHKNA Inc.

 As KCHKNA, we are thus guided by a certain philosophy that is core to our existence. Unfortunately, as you may have noted from this note, a culture or philosophy is not something one can define in one line, or point at the same way we can point at our shiny office complex. We can share examples, but even they fall short. For example, we see the human as the greatest capital. Given the right tools and resources, she can achieve the extraordinary. We take inspiration from Jeff Bezos when he says, “Failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.” Thus we gloat neither over our failures nor our successes; but we dissect and learn from both experiences.  And while failure and invention are indeed inseparable twins, we never venture into something haphazardly in the hope of learning lessons from the failure; no, we do our utmost to plan and derisk our endeavors and maximize the probability for phenomenal success. And yet these examples never fully represent our philosophy, our DNA. Ultimately, you would have to come and join us to know and experience our core philosophy!

Happy World DNA day!