• Karl Schmieder

When You Hear CRISPR, Do You Think DADA?

In 1916, a group of exiled European artists gathered in Zurich and started an art movement that would change the world.

Unhappy with the violence and the horror of the first World War, the artists rejected logic, reason, and modern capitalism.

Birthed at the Cabaret Voltaire, the movement was called Dada.

Dada artwork spanned visual, literary, and sound media. It included collage, sound poetry, cut-up writing, and sculpture. It expressed nonsense, irrationality, and chaos. It was often created using everyday objects. And it could be fun.

The most famous Dadaist was Marcel Duchamp. His sculpture "fountain" was a porcelain urinal.

Dada and its anti-establishment, antiwar ideas quickly spread across Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean to New York, and as far away as Japan.

The public was often outraged by the Dadaists and their art. This only encouraged further work, and sparked other groups of Dadaists to form.

Dada was officially not a movement. Its artists, not artists. Its art, not art.

But just as mainstream artists were considering Dadaism, Dada (in a true Dadaist fashion) dissolved itself in 1920.

I bring up Dada and its relevance to life science entrepreneurs and communicators for two reasons:

  1. Dada’s influence is widespread. You probably see it every day without realizing it. Contemporary artists influenced by Dada include Jamie Reid, Kutiman, LiveWild and Mononeon.The Dadaists wrote not one -- but several -- manifestoes.

  2. We’re 20 years into the Biotech Century. As a life science entrepreneur you have the opportunity to change the world with your ideas. Like the Dadaists, a manifesto might be what you need to tell the world what you stand for.

A manifesto can help you focus your ideas and your goals.

What is a manifesto?

According to Webster, it’s a public declaration of intentions, motives, or views.

It’s a grounding document. A concise explanation of why you do what you do. It outlines intentions, motivations, and a view of what the world should be.

In my opinion, a manifesto has to be easy to understand because it must helps others understand what you do.

It is also a living and breathing document that grows and changes as you grow and change.

Hugo Ball’s 1916 Dadaist Manifesto begins:

Dada is a new tendency in art. 

It asks, 

How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying Dada. How does one become famous? By saying Dada.

Tristan Tzara’s 1918 Dadaist Manifesto denouced war, humanity and art. It even claims


Historical manifestos include the Declaration of Independence and the Communist Manifesto. More recent ones include the Asilomar Conference Guidelines on Recombinant DNA, Cluetrain Manifesto (on the impact of the internet on marketing) and Bryan Johnson’s Plan for Humanity.

How do you write your manifesto?

Before you get started, you have to realize that it’s not easy (but we’re here if you need help). You have to take this seriously. And you need to take your time to get it right. 

Here are three questions to ask yourself as you write your own manifesto:

  1. Who are you helping? You might be writing your manifesto for yourself (some people do). You might be writing it for your internal team. Or you might be writing it to share it with the world because you’re going to make our planet a better place. Only you know who you need to connect with, the people you’re helping. Previously, I’ve written about connecting with your audience. You need to know your audience. And you do that by asking tons of questions, listening, and understanding.

  2. What are you doing to make a difference? This is big. Can you articulate what you’re doing to improve the world? Whether you’re accelerating gene synthesis, improving organism engineering, making biology easier to engineer, or helping science entrepreneurs improve their storytelling, only you can do this your way. I’ve heard people say we are on this planet to help others. Let your creativity flow and tell the world what you’re creating in the lab, in your business, with your words, or actions. 

  3. What’s your why? Motivational speaker and author Simon Sinek became famous for his TED Talk “Start with why” (the second most watched TED video). Answer the questions: Why does your company exist? Why should people care? If you’re going to inspire people with your manifesto, you need a clearly expressed why. A reason for people to pay attention, be part of your community, your culture. Sinek suggests you answer the question why? Before you answer How? or What?

I always say “write it down” when you’re working on your manifesto because writing is my medium. I also know magic happens when you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

That said, I know some of you will prefer to create an audio or a visual manifesto.

Don’t be intimidated by the media. The Dadaists weren’t.

A few answers to the questions you might be asking:

  • What’s the difference between a manifesto and cornerstone content? Your cornerstone (or foundational) content is basic, essential, indispensable. It’s the foundation on which the content of your website is built. It’s what people need to know to do business with you. It can be a tutorial about gene synthesis, organism engineering for beginners, a frequently asked questions page, an inspirational message. Or, it can be your manifesto. 

  • Do you have your own manifesto? I do. Yeah. A personal manifesto. messagingLAB doesn’t have a manifesto, we have a mission: To leverage the power of communications to help life sciences entrepreneurs make the world a better place.

I came here for the CRISPR, where is that? Stay tuned. We’ll get to CRISPR soon enough.

The Dadaist gave us several manifestos. Does your company need one?