Fronteer Strategy: A European Case Study

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While reading Andrew Ross’ book, No Collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs, I thought back to the new media class I took abroad. The founder of a consulting firm based in Amsterdam was one of the first speakers to visit our class early on in the semester. When he first described his company, Fronteer Strategy, most of us in the class were a bit confused exactly what the company actually did. Based on the handout he gave us, his company specializes in “co-creation,” a method “used to solve problems…by bringing experts from within and outside a company together in order to generate ideas, improve existing concepts and find new solutions.” While his mission is easy to understand, initially grasping the day-to-day activities within the company itself was a bit harder to pin down. Similarly, as discussed by Ross, the scandal produced by the Sixty Minutes interview with Razorfish employees reminded me of the speaker’s struggle to fully explain the purpose of Frontier Strategy. While there could have been a language barrier that prevented a clearer explanation, I would also argue that the type of consulting firm the founder was describing didn’t translate well because it didn’t resemble a typical business structure, but rather a 21st century no collar workplace. Keeping that in mind, by the end of Ross’ book, he mentions how one person he interviewed made the decision to move to Scandinavia because she felt “unprepared…for such a radical uncertainty about the rules for survival” in the workplace due to the “supporting structures within the organization [being] dissolved (253). Although Amsterdam is not technically part of Scandinavia, it shares commonalities in many respects, including business practices. Evidently, this part of the world is offering something that the U.S. lacks, perhaps “a just job in a more just economy” (254).

This brings me back to Fronteer Strategy. This company actually shares a similar structure to the no collar workplace described by Ross. For instance, they hire people who work on a project-by-project basis, much like a freelancer, that fit into one of five predetermined categories representing the customer, the professional, the professor, the connector and the wildcard. Each type of person provides their own distinct value in the co-creational experience. This seems to resemble the new consulting model that emerged in web design companies, which “demanded smooth coordination between business strategists, technologists and creatives in design, architecture, and writing” (23). In both cases, there was a need for specialized labor to work as a team to achieve their goals. With that being said, while American companies try to hire workers with a variety of skill sets that will complement each other, the workplace environment itself inhibits this from taking place. As Ross mentions, there tends to be a “push-and-pull tension between employees on the creative side and those on the business side” in companies like Razorfish, which yields unnecessary animosity (66). Conversely, Fronteer Strategy creates a workspace in which “ideas are shared, rather than kept to oneself” to promote “synchronicity…in which all participants are resonating on the same wavelength.” Instead of critical and creative minds competing against each other, Fronteer Strategy does its best to minimize hostility and encourage productive collaboration.

Additionally, in regards to value, Fronteer Strategy promotes fun, fulfillment, and fame, quite similar to those of the no collar workforce. These intangible rewards are “more than money or benefits…[but lead to] “self-actualization,” in essence the opportunity to achieve a sense of personal satisfaction while making a worthwhile contribution to that company (142). All in all, I don’t think the U.S. should become the new Scandinavia, even though Bernie Sanders strongly favors that, but there seem to be some positive aspects about Fronteer Strategy that embody both humane and just workplace values. While this company shares similar qualities with those of the no collar workplace, the Utopian balance discussed by Ross seems to be apparent at Fronteer Strategy.

Ross, Andrew. No-Collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs. New York, NY: Basic, 2003. Print.


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