Inoculating companies against inaction, irrelevance, inflexibility and instability.

Biology teems with examples of adaptive systems

[excerpt from BCG]
Nature’s Systems

Biology teems with examples of adaptive systems. The human immune system, for example, exhibits adaptation that enables it to cope with an unpredictable and virtually infinitely diverse set of pathogens. In spite of its sophistication, it can mobilize itself against threats by using “rules” and properties intrinsic to the system, rather than taking direction from the brain in a top-down manner. Some of those properties include the following:

  • Diversity is enabled by modularity. The recombination of modular molecular structures enables a small number of genes to generate a vast number of different antigen receptors.
  • Tight feedback loops facilitate rapid responses. When activated by a particular pathogen, specialized cells accelerate the production of large numbers of specific antibodies to counter a threat.
  • Learning is built into the system. Far from operating with a rigid design, the immune system “remembers” previous threats and adapts its tool kit to increase its effectiveness over time.
  • Redundancy is key. The antibody response described above is only one of several overlapping subsystems of the immune system that enable it to respond to different kinds of threats over different timeframes.

As we continue to learn more about biological systems, we are likely to uncover many more insights into how to structure, evolve, manage, and sustain advantaged and adaptive business systems.

Filed under: Properties of Antigens, , , , ,

ANTIGENcy Advantage

One thing we hear executives like about this model is that it captures a richness and range of possibilities that traditional consulting may not capture. It is designed to stimulate decision makers to consider changes they would otherwise ignore—partially because we organize outcomes into a narrative and not a stiff analysis. This makes a significant difference.


Filed under: management consulting

What We Set Out to Accomplish With Antigens

What if an organization had an immune system that could sense instantly when something was not right and dispatch the right help before management knew it was an issue that needed to be addressed?

ANTIGENcy is about active and informed scenario planning –anecdotes and antidotes.

ANTIGENcy antigens are prescient scenarios with wings! They are forward-looking statements and what-if’s that organizations want to see and think about. They are stimulating organizations to think more broadly about things that can adversely affect their bottom lines.

Each scenario is a several page designed PDF that helps the subscriber understand the antigen and that antigen’s value to their organization. It is also an account of how other organizations have used the antigen and the results they found in narrative outcomes.

It looks a bit like the periodic table of elements in how it describes its purpose, value, relevance and potential to sniff out hidden liabilities and see themselves and their organizations in that antigen’s context. They have to embody the vision the antigen imparts.

Here’s an example:


Subcategories: Career Path, Succession Planning, Employee Engagement

Antigen description: Your Organization is about to lose an important leader

Detail: Tom, a rapidly emerging manager understands your business, is going through an Executive MBA program at a top university and is, unbeknownst to you, entertaining offers from an industry rival.

He is on the fence and feels some allegiance to your company. However, he is not making as much money as he knows he can elsewhere and feels like he is not a part of as many decisions about his employer as he feels he can reliably contribute.

You have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and immeasurable amounts of time into Tom, not to mention the knowledge he has built about your most guarded trade secrets—is about to fly out the door. Tom also has 16 people he has trained and who would follow him out the door regardless of any non-solicitation agreements they have signed.

Potential Loss to Your Organization:

  • Your company’s time and financial investment in Tom.
  • The cost of the hole Tom’s departure is about to create.
  • The replacement costs of Tom’s potential followers.
  • The morale of adjacent employees.
  • The notion that the company isn’t good enough to keep top talent planted as a seed in all other employees’ minds.
  • The potential gains Tom could have created for your company.
  • The competitive advantage you just handed to an industry rival.

Action: ANTIGENcy runs the organization through the process:

  1. ANTIGENcy does baseline research on the organization, helps to on-board the client using subscription model. Helps the client to see the process and their place in that process.
  2. ANTIGENcy administers the Vulnerability Assessment Test (VAT.) Determines score. Reports score in a facilitated meeting. In this same meeting, ANTIGENcy counselors helps the organization see how the results translate into antigens.
  3. ANTIGENcy helps with the planning for the “injecting” of the antigen(s). ANTIGENcy helps to demonstrate how is it going to unfold within the organization. ANTIGENcy helps with any necessary internal communications that needs to take place. Help with any mitigation and contingency planning.
  4. ANTIGENcy facilitates the injection of the antigen into the organization.
  5. Observe the outcome(s).
  6. ANTIGENcy overseeing the building of the antibody(ies) to address the adverse outcomes. (IMPORTANT NOTE: ANTIGENcy directly addresses the issues of Career Pathing, Succession Planning and Employee Engagement.)
  7. ANTIGENcy-facilitated meeting to present the antibody(ies) and help demonstrate how the process helps the organization deal with issues hidden behind corners/in the future. Ongoing/periodic assessment of the antibodies efficacy.
  8. Continuous improvement cycles to keep the organization fit.

We are currently building up the antigen database and finalizing the assessment tests. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Steven Keith (919) 771-5219.


Filed under: Uncategorized

ANTIGENcy’s Purpose Design, Goals and Objectives

What ANTIGENcy is: It’s a group of curious people that have begun to create a way for organizations (ANTIGENcy customers) to better anticipate and outflank adverse business outcomes. It’s designed to help them become better acquainted with their futures.

ANTIGENcy is a product and a service. The antigen is the product. The application of the antigen and creation of the custom process is the service and it looks like this:

  • Research the organization/on-boarding
  • Administering the VAT(vulnerability assessment test)/scoring
  • Planning for the injecting of the antigen(s)
  • Injecting the antigen
  • Observing the outcome(s)
  • Overseeing the building of the antibodies
  • Periodic assessment of the antibodies efficacy
  • Continuous improvement cycles to keep the organization fit

So, first, there is a product that will take the shape of a library of growing antigens categorized as follows:

1. Strategic

2. Leadership

3. People & Culture (human capital)

4. External (marketing, advertising, etc.)

5. Technology

6. Operations (process & methods)

7. Sales (revenue & profit)

8. Environment (physical space & location)

9. Knowledge & Learning

Based on the client organization’s Vulnerability Assessment Test results, we would be able to steer them toward a specific category.

Second, there is a service, a consultation that allows for ANTIGENcy partners to help the organization plan for, administer and apply changes to allow for growth or suppression of the adverse events they’re guarding against.

There are many benfits to this approach over traditional management consulting. Foremost is ANTIGENcy’s belief that approaching sticky business problems is more than a mere prescriptive approach to problems they know they have. The difference lies between knowing you have a specific problem and knowing how to fix it (conventional approach), and not knowing you have vulnerabilities and seeking out to address them. This approach forces organizations to see around corners, to think laterally about the future and bolstering defenses before they become liabilities.

The ANTIGENcy approach is an effective way to present complex scenarios in a coherent, integrated picture that allows leaders to prepare for a more productive future.

It also allows for org’s to gain exposure to a broader array of potential problems than they may have exposure to in the present. It forces them to look at and gauge the importance of adjacent or tangential problems or challenges and their vulnerability to them and gives them an opportunity to become aware of them, at the very least and an opportunity to take steps to actively guard themselves against these problems.

A tangible selling point of this approach needs to be that if one subscribes to the ANTIGENcy library, they will soon have access to a growing body of maturing scenarios and viable means to protect themselves from unanticipated liabilities. I call this recombinance.

In essence, if one subscribes to the service, they gain access to the whole library giving them wide access to the means and ways that other organizations have used the antigens. If company A used antigen X, then company B should be able to benefit from the learning of company A and so on.

The goals of ANTIGENcy are:

  • To produce a valued disruption in traditional management consulting.
  • To help bold organizations play a more active role in their futures.
  • To make the client company have more fun with important work.
  • To grow a powerful library of business antigens that is valued by all who touch them.
  • Create a significant demand for this approach that organizations want to subscribe to.
  • Help organizations identify or self-diagnose what their limitations and barriers are and give them a means to address them.

The objectives of ANTIGENcy are to:

  • Create a business allowing approximately 15 smart and creative people to innovate a disruption to conventional management consulting.
  • To produce a profit allowing 15 people to live a balanced working life and be engaged in their work.
  • To become a B-Corp and give significant profits back to the communities in which we work.
  • To gain 25 clients within the first year and 100 clients within the first two years.

If you are interested in this approach please contact Steven Keith (919) 771-5219.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , ,

ANTIGENcy Presentation for Recruitcamp

Attached is a presentation I am giving at Recruitcamp at Quintiles Transnational in RTP, NC on Thursday, April 22. The presentation talks about where ANTIGENcy comes from, how it evolved and how the corporate antigens are conceived.

Take a peek and let me know what you think. And if you are so inclined, check out #recruitcamp Thursday the 22nd at Quintiles.


Filed under: Innovation, management consulting, Properties of Antigens, , , , ,

New Perspectives :: A Biologist Joins ANTIGENcy Thinking

How do each of the dimensions of business fit with a biological paradigm? Jotting down some thoughts here…

1. Strategic

Organisms evolve. Organizations evolve. How can you understand your organization within the context of the business ecosystem? By understanding the competitive landscape, adaptive peaks, the role of mutability and how to exploit niches.

2. Leadership

In animal behavior, hierarchical properties within a population determine the nature of leadership. What aspects of leadership determine success or failure? The ability to work within the tribe, dominance behavior, the propensity to take risks.

3. Culture

Culture is an emergent property of complex biological processes, not restricted to humans. How is culture defined within a species or society, and what is its role and importance? Culture is comprise of information that passes on through generations. A unit of cultural inheritance is a meme (from Dawkins’ original definition). Defining and understanding memes can provide insight into prevailing cultural trends and their potential impact on an organization.

4. Extemal

Homeostasis is the physiological feedback loop that enables organisms to maintain constant internal environments despite external variations. What processes enable organisms to buffer physiological processes against external changes? Feedback loops within dynamic systems enable information to be transferred to allow adjustment of systemic processes to adapt (locally) and so return to a desired state.

Filed under: 1, About ANTIGENcy, General, management consulting


In immunology, affinity is the attraction of an antibody to an antigen. In the corporate sense, affinity is the attraction of a solution to a problem. Simple huh? Not really.

Yesterday I was “attacked” by an immunologist in the RTP who thought my metaphor was preposterous and worse, lame. He claimed that it was again, opportunistic marketing looking for a new trend. He went on to politely discard my idea as moronic and told me that I didn’t know enough about science to draw from it. Probably. But fuck him.  By that logic we all must stop saying “Rocket Science” or “Rocket Surgery.”

I heard what he was saying. I even agreed with him on a base level. Beyond that, what an idiot! He claimed that I ought to know what I was talking about before I ventured into the pristine science of immunology.

Here is what I want and what I am doing:

I believe we are all heading into an evolved state of business. A state that is now capable of moving, changing, replicating, infecting, killing other businesses. It has always happened, it is now just happening faster. And in the future it will move yet faster. We will learn to adapt to it. But how will we learn? What is the most effective way to set ourselves up to the task of seeing, accepting and adapting to business change?

I am arguing that by borrowing from biology, we can create new frameworks to see, accept/reject, create, adapt and inoculate in ways that create advantage. I want to help change perspective. To create a new environment to see things through a metaphor that extends one’s perceptions.

I am mapping out what I believe are to be generally accepted hierarchies of problems (antigens) that are or will affect a company’s well being (body). There are a lot of them.  I am creating parallels between management consulting and immunology to help me frame methods for dealing with these problems by using creative/unconventional solutions like design thinking (antibodies).

What is most interesting so far is how well the science of immunology and the art of enterprise transformation correspond to one another. It makes me wonder why I wasn’t thinking about this while working on my last big digital transformation consultation last year.

Filed under: General, , , , , , ,

Gary Hamel asks a Great Question

Gary Hamel’s terrific question: What’s the one thing your company could do to lessen the gravitational pull of the past?

Filed under: General, ,

What is my definition of “Management Consulting?”

If this Antigency concept, at its most root level, is a mash-up of management consulting and vaccine science, I want to be clear as possible and define what I think the principal elements are. I have been asked a lot about this as I had suspected would happen.

I know vaccine science to be just that. Its the science of designing, creating, testing and delivering vaccines. Let’s agree that is vaccine science or part of Epidemiology, Immunology and Biology. Am I right? I am sure there is plenty of debate…but for the sake of simplicity…

Now Management Consulting, on the other hand, is more squishy and ambiguous and has been molested by so many for so long. You can go out tomorrow and claim that you are management consultant. I certainly have. And for that, I have had my ass handed to me enough times to finally get it right and understand my place in it. So here it is; my open-sourced definition of management consulting. Management Consulting is:

  • about the application of consulting methods to address business performance issues within companies and organizations
  • it is used to help companies identify, address and improve key business performance issues across a number of industries
  • typically delivered on an issue-by-issue basis over a set amount of time using a set process
  • identifies and prioritizing issues, creates feasible interventions to address root-causes, tries to measure impact of interventions based on key performance issues
  • seeks opportunities to sell specialized services to other businesses and organizations
  • typically an analytical, left-brain exercise

So there you have it. I would love to flesh this out and gain a broader perspective in the mean time. What do you think?

Filed under: About ANTIGENcy, management consulting, , , ,

The Epidemiologic Triad

The term ‘epidemiologic triad’ is used to describe the intersection of HostAgent, and Environment in analyzing an outbreak.

Relevant to our work in that we help organizations (the host) bolster their defenses against corporate antigens (agents) within their environments.

Filed under: Properties of Antigens