It is argued that the 'routines as genes' and the 'routines as skills' analogies are misleading in several respects. Neither genes, nor skills, nor routines program behavior, if this is taken to involve, first, that they do so in a way that excludes conscious, deliberate choice and, second, that they determine behavior. On a proper understanding of 'gene', 'skill' and 'routine', conscious, deliberate choice is not ruled out when genes, skills or routines are operating. Once we shift from analogy to ontology, genes and skills appear as basic constituents of routines. Routines cannot exist unless specific genes and skills are in place in the individuals involved in the operation of the routines. Both genes and skills can be said to act unconsciously as 'If ..., then ...' programs. Even complete knowledge of genes and skills of the individuals involved would fall far short of predicting individual and firm behavior, however. What would still be missing, it is argued, is knowledge about organization, the specific ways in which genes, skills and individuals are connected with one another, and knowledge of context-dependence, what environmental stimuli activate specific chains of genes, skills and individuals.

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Journal of Evolutionary Economics
Erasmus School of Philosophy

Vromen, J. (2006). Routines, genes and program-based behavior. Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 16(5), 543–560. doi:10.1007/s00191-006-0028-2