All posts in The Frontier Way

Businesses need “cowboys” and “farmers” – here’s why

Jim Carroll once posed the question “Are you a farmer or a cowboy?”, noting:

‘I often think that art is divided between the farmer and the cowboy: the farmer is the guy who finds a piece of territory, stakes it up, digs it and cultivates it – grows the land. The cowboy is the one who goes out and finds new territories.’

It’s a thought provoking distinction. And perhaps all of us in the field of commercial creativity should ask ourselves: What kind of creative am I? Am I more adept at pioneering or cultivating? Am I a cowboy or a farmer?”

I suspect most of us would like to imagine ourselves as cowboys or cowgirls; as experts in reframing, redefining, reinventing; as intrepid adventurers intent on discovering new frontiers. It’s the more romantic choice. Indeed this is Eno’s own understanding of himself.

But let’s not be too hasty.

Many of the world’s great artists could perhaps be described as more farmer than cowboy. Think Mondrian, Giacometti, Rothko or Pollock. They worked within a coherent conceptual space, repeatedly revisiting a relatively narrow terrain; making it their own through variety and depth of expression. They ‘grew the land.’

Perhaps a little predictably, I’m inclined to say that a healthy creative business needs both cowboys and farmers. We need to be able to pioneer as well as to cultivate; to reinvent as well as to refine. And critically, we need to know when to adopt each of these two modes; when to stick and when to twist.

We’ve got both farmers and cowboys here at Frontier. If you’d like to join us, either on the farm or off it, send us your details to http://frontiergroup.info/careers/

I’ve failed a lot – Here’s why that’s OK.

A favorite question of mine at recruitment interviews and one we are always hoping to hear interesting answers to is “Tell us (if comfortable) about your biggest failings”. We don’t usually get good answers and this may be because, culturally we are not comfortable talking about failure.

To do my part, to make it clear that failure is ok and you need to fail to learn, at a recent speech to students at a University, I opened my speech with a story of one my failures. Here is a lightly edited draft of the start to that speech:

Good morning everyone! Thank you very much for this opportunity.

I very much appreciate the intro you gave me, listing out my achievements – But as you also just heard I have failed many times. So before I talk about how we do research at Frontier, let me give you a little background into some of the things I have failed in.

This is me at age 17, with a trophy for the “best results” in my school.

Then I went off to Uni and in my final year:

  1. I got a lot more involved in varied student activities that involved public speaking – this is something I took up as a personal challenge in Uni, because public speaking was something I was terrified of before going to University.
  2. I also went into a very deep study of 19th and early 20th century stock market bubbles, which was an optional and very small part of my course load, but led me to ignore the rest of my studies till far too late.

I got totally burnt out doing all this and I went into full blown “panic mode” in the final two months of uni. I had had a really great time in university before then, but those final two months were a really bad period.

This is me at age 21. Absolutely shocked at seeing my degree results and realizing I had passed. I was quite convinced I had failed. With that expectation, just passing was great news to me, but the reality was that I was definitely well in the bottom half of my batch and my hopes of getting into a good graduate school for studying beyond my degree were gone, so I felt it was not a good end to my Uni Career.

And it does not stop there. I returned to Sri Lanka from Singapore, because I completely failed to make progress after an initial great break with my first job overseas.  Then, after starting Frontier, for the first seven years it was a ridiculously small business where, even in my seventh year, I really did not know if I would continue in business or just have to quit.

 I am sharing this for two reasons:

  1. Now looking back, the study of bubbles in the 19th/20th century (which I burnt myself out doing) is the material from Uni that I think is the most fundamentally useful to my work now. And the ability to speak publicly is far more useful that any results from Uni. So now, using the term popularized by Steve Jobs, the dots connect well backwards.
  2. If you ever go through a hard time, I hope this helps. Knowing that failing badly is the story behind many successful figures, as shown in the following graphic, has helped me, so hopefully more stories like this with a Sri Lankan context would help you

“Failing” is also often the result of doing something risky or different. But knowing that it’s ok to take that risk, because it often works out better in the longer term, despite the initial failing, helps to encourage others to be open to taking more risk – this is something we need to build a more entrepreneurial and creative workforce in Sri Lanka.

I am also putting this on the blog, as a message to anyone looking to join Frontier. We want to make it clear that we are not “conventional” in wanting to recruit people with only a straight line track of success. We want to recruit team members who have failed and learnt from it – those that can bring those learnings to Frontier. If that sounds like you, send us your details to http://frontiergroup.info/careers/

“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.”

– Richard Branson.

Looking for creativity and innovation? Hire a Pirate!

“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.” – Steve Jobs

Steve jobs had a different way of looking at recruitment. He preferred the unconventional and creative nature of ‘pirates’ to the discipline of the Navy. So, why pirates?

Well, according to this post from Fast Co. Design, he believed that:

A pirate can function without a bureaucracy. Pirates support one another and support their leader in the accomplishment of a goal. A pirate can stay creative and on task in a difficult or hostile environment. A pirate can act independently and take intelligent risks, but always within the scope of the greater vision and the needs of the greater team.

“Being aggressive, egocentric, or antisocial makes it easier to ponder ideas in solitude or challenge convention,” says Dean Keith Simonton, a University of California psychology professor and an expert on creativity. “Meanwhile, resistance to change or a willingness to give up easily can derail new initiatives.”

So Steve’s message was: If you’re bright, but you prefer the size and structure and traditions of the navy, go join IBM. If you’re bright and think different and are willing to go for it as part of a special, unified, and unconventional team, become a pirate.

At Frontier, we are always looking for the passion, drive and creativity that fosters true innovation. If this sounds like you, send us your details at http://frontiergroup.info/careers/

The Frontier Fitness Week

It’s been just over a year since we started our Fitness Initiative (which you can read about here). How did we do so far?

Well, in a word, meh.

Wait, let us explain…

Initially, team members were encouraged to start activities that contributed to their fitness and they did! Several team members joined gyms, took up yoga or just started walking more.

Day 2: We went Cycling/Running

But we believe that no one likes to be forced to do something they don’t want to do and when they are the results are, generally, not great.

So, we put it to the team. We asked each team member if they’d like to “opt-in” for our fitness initiative and this worked out better than expected – only one team member opted out.

 

Working together vs. working alone

Things were moving (get it?), just not enough – and we think we figured out why.

Yes, all team members were encouraged to start some fitness activity individually, but that takes a lot of motivation and effort. We decided to try out group activities, where the team could share each other’s motivation and get moving! (A little bit of friendly competition didn’t hurt either!)

Day 3: More Badminton!

We started small, scheduling weekly walks/runs (again, attendance was voluntary). While motivation was lacking, we figured what you won’t do for yourself, you will do for others. In that light, we asked the team to use our weekly walks as “training” for an upcoming charity run.

This worked out initially, but attendance waned after the charity run passed. We realized that walking wasn’t the kind of exciting “sport” that had people raring to go each week. So, we decided to get a few more options by calling for suggestions from the team. After too many a few anonymous internal surveys, we had a list of activities that the team would like – ranging from badminton and football to cycling and Zumba.

 

Day 4: Because no one wanted to take pictures at Zumba

Enter the Frontier Fitness week.

We decided to try a few of these activities, over the course of a week, during the holiday period in April. As an incentive, we decided to treat all qualifying team members to an unhealthy pizza extravaganza a dinner at the Hilton and with a walk around the Colombo Fort area. How do you qualify? Well, here were the rules:

  1. There will be 5 core activities. Team members need to attend at least 2 of these to qualify.
  2. If at least 3 team members attend all 5 (only one of us did), they would get another treat.
  3. Team members are free to organize their own activities as well.
  4. Each activity needs a minimum of 3 team members to qualify.

Overall, the fitness week was a success!

We played badminton on two days, went cycling, took yet another walk and even tried Zumba! Badminton took the cake, in terms of attendance, but cycling and Zumba were rather popular as well.

Day 5: Rounding it out with a jog!

The fitness week gave us a better understanding of the types of activities the team prefers and has really helped us plan out our future fitness activities (we’ve sprinkled in a few Badminton games amidst all the walking now – #progress).

 

Health is more than just exercise!

We also broadened our vision from just fitness/exercise to overall health. In that respect, we partnered up with Hemas. In case you haven’t heard, Hemas recently released an online “Wellness” platform – offering everything from medical checkups to activity tracking on one platform, with a monthly subscription. We’ve been using the said platform for a few months now and, while the activity tracking hasn’t kicked off with us, we recently concluded our first medical checkup through the platform and came away rather satisfied.

 

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for our next update on the Frontier Fitness Initiative!

 

The Story of Time Twister

We are on a mission to solve your “No time” problem and here’s how Time Twister became one of the solutions!

Before Time Twister..

Our team members would spend an inordinate amount of time searching for up-to-date news on the latest Economic, Financial and Political developments, which is a key aspect of any research based firm. Every team member at Frontier used to go through several news sources individually for very similar information, which, in retrospect, was not the best use of our time as a team.

The early days..

We set up a system for some team members to browse through a few critical news sources which were then categorized and prioritized. The news was compiled into a newsletter which was then shared via email with the rest of the team. Interestingly, it was initially called “Amal’s Daily News Update”.

Some fine tuning required..

The email newsletter was a hit, and we started introducing it to our close friends and clients. We received great feedback, which helped develop the product to what you see today. Some of the critical changes that were done include:

Expanding our sources – We found out that many of our clients are starved for information and like to see different perspectives on news stories. Hence our Time Twister newsletter provides an exhaustive coverage of the Economic and Financial market related news which includes almost all the English language Sri Lankan news sources. Recently we started monitoring a few key Sinhala and Tamil newspapers and translating them to be included in the following day’s edition of Time Twister.

Early Delivery time – All our time twister news products are ready and waiting in your inbox by 8 a.m. which is one of its most appealing factors for its readers. We even have an “Early Daily Time Twister” which is sent out before 6 a.m. for those clients who prefer to get a head start on the news

Customization – We learnt that different readers have different information needs. Some like it in one long email, others prefer it broken up in different ways, others would like it only when travelling. We cater to all of these, allowing users to select which flavor of Time Twister they like best.

Time Twister Now..

While our news products may have changed and become more diverse since the days of “Amal’s Daily News Update”, our mission to filter out the noise and give you the most important news in a timely and convenient manner is unchanged.

We call it Time Twister because of its core purpose of saving time. But the name is also reflective of how we “twist” work hours, well away from the norm, to bring you Time Twister as early as possible each day.

‘Science’ (you can call it pseudo-science if you like), has it that human beings function best at different times and, for some, these times are not the usual working hours.

There are what you call Larks, who are morning people, and Owls, who work best at night and are next to useless in the morning.

Time Twister is a product where Larks and Owls make best use of their work-time differences to add value to clients.

Time Twister in numbers..

8 Time Twister team members ensure that you get the news you require, delivered to you 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

1 of them stays up late to capture comments on equity forum discussions, 2 others are up as early as 4.00 a.m. to get the basic version of Time Twister ready, and 2 others are ready at the considerably less peculiar time of 6.00 a.m. for a final source check and update. To ensure that we can overcome any hiccups, we even have 1 person acting as the ‘back-up’! We also have 2 additional team members taking up duty during the weekend to give the rest of the team a well-deserved break.

Looking to the future….

The good news is that we’ll keep improving, taking feedback from team members, clients and friends. Feel free to send us an email or give us a call if you have any suggestions.

Are We Really Your Best Choice?

This week on Friday Focus, we continue to implore more on the “Frontier way”. Here’s why we help all stakeholders make the best choice suited for them.

 

“Are we really your best choice? Isn’t either X, Y or Z a better option for you? Why don’t you check with them first?”

Sometimes we give bizarre responses, like the above, when a client approaches us to do something outside of our focus areas. For many, it is a notion that’s a little difficult to comprehend, but this comes from our core values that guide us in what we do:

In particular a core value we have is we help all stakeholders make the BEST CHOICE, even if it is not with Frontier.

We believe it is the right thing to do, to help team members find better jobs, and our clients better business partners, if Frontier is no longer their best choice.

As our business grew, we have built our “brand” and “relationships”, not only about the specific work we carry out, but in a general perspective that we could be trusted and good at a variety of things. However, we don’t really want this developed comfort and familiarity to be something that wins us business. If someone is better than us at a certain job, we believe that we are only adding negative value by trying to do the same. We want to be the best. Ideally, “the only ones.

Our values could sometimes be confused as “new-averse” due to our discomfort in robbing someone of business they do better.

We are, however, definitely willing to venture into unexplored waters looking for new things that no one else does.  We are experiencing change in the way we do things and we do not shy away from opportunities to rapidly experiment with new ideas.  But we do not take anything head on just because there is a simple opportunity for us when we are well aware that there is someone who could do it better.

We apply the same values to our internal stakeholders. Recruits and current team members are constantly allowed to question if, “Frontier is the best choice for them?” We allow and often encourage and guide them to make that choice, providing direction into understanding what suits them best.

For us, it’s not all about saying “YES”, but to make sure the client chooses the most optimal solution possible – even if it’s not with us.

 

For more on the Frontier Way, visit our blog.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

Recruitment, The Frontier Way

This week on Friday Focus we take a look at an article from our own blog on how recruitment works at Frontier.

Candidates often ask us what the recruitment process at Frontier is like and whether it is as contrarian as the culture at Frontier. 

 

While specifics for roles differ, the underneath captures what everyone has to go through, including interns, on whose recruitment we place as much weight as on longer term posts. The key take away from this is, it is very hard to get any sort of position at Frontier. There is a range of tests/interviews you need to take part in that would take a lot of your time, and even at the final level, after going through many hours of your time and ours, you still have a high chance of being rejected. This can be the cause of hard feelings by some, but in our view has been essential to our success.

As you may know from past blog posts, the work environment at Frontier is very independent and democratic. And this philosophy extends to the recruitment process as well.

The initial stages would have any new candidate sitting through multiple tests/questions. Some are done online, in keeping with our largely remote work culture. The tests done would be dependent on the role for which she is being hired. An economics related hire would face economics related testing and equity related hire would face capital market related testing. Most interviews happen after this stage. Very often we try to schedule recruitments at a time we can blind test similar candidates. I.e. Tests are often given for which the answers are sent to the assessors (which include Amal, our CEO) without the candidates’ names on the answers. This is to assess the tests separate from the identity of the test taker without any sense of bias.

However, towards the end of the process, each candidate will have to be given the go ahead by every team member, including current interns. A new candidate will only move forward if he receives unanimous approval from the team, a question which is put to them on an anonymous basis, so they can answer it freely.

Further, at Frontier, prestigious qualifications and pedigree count for much less than how a candidate performs at our own tests. Almost all judgement is carried out based on performance during the in house tests that every candidate will be put through. Even those who have failed in the traditional sense but do well at the tests will find themselves on similar footing to those who have perfect CVs or perfect grades.

 

For more on the functioning of the Frontier way, visit our blog.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

Recruitment, the Frontier Way

cartoon picture of selecting a candidate for a job

Candidates often ask us what the recruitment process at Frontier is like and whether it is as contrarian as the culture at Frontier. Given that, we thought to write a post on it which we can share with future candidates.

While specifics for roles differ, the underneath captures what everyone has to go through, including interns, on whose recruitment we place as much weight as on longer term posts.

The key take away from this is, it is very hard to get any sort of position at Frontier. There is a range of tests/interviews you need to take part in that would take a lot of your time, and even at the final level, after going through many hours of your time and ours, you still have a high chance of being rejected. This can be the cause of hard feelings by some, but in our view has been essential to our success.

As you may know from past blog posts, the work environment at Frontier is very independent and democratic. And this philosophy extends to the recruitment process as well.

The initial stages would have any new candidate sitting through multiple tests/questions. Some are done online, in keeping with our largely remote work culture. The tests done would be dependent on the role for which she is being hired. An economics related hire would face economics related testing and an equity related hire would face capital market related testing. Most interviews happen after this stage. Very often we try to schedule recruitments at a time we can blind test similar candidates. I.e. Tests are often given for which the answers are sent to the assessors (which include Amal, our CEO) without the candidates’ names on the answers. This is to assess the tests separate from the identity of the test taker without any sense of bias.

However, towards the end of the process, each candidate will have to be given the go ahead by every team member, including current interns. A new candidate will only move forward if he receives unanimous approval from the team, a question which is put to them on an anonymous basis, so they can answer it freely.

Further, at Frontier, prestigious qualifications and pedigree count for much less than how a candidate performs at our own tests. Almost all judgement is carried out based on performance during the in house tests that every candidate will be put through. Even those who have failed in the traditional sense but do well at the tests will find themselves on similar footing to those who have perfect CVs or perfect grades.

Even if we feel a candidate would be really great through all this, at varied points in the process we try to understand if Frontier is the best thing for them as we are open about what we don’t offer.

If we also feel that they would do better for themselves in another firm, even though they would add a lot of value to us, we lead them that way, because a core value we have is that:

… we help all stakeholders make the BEST CHOICE, even if it is not with Frontier.

We believe it is the right thing to do, to help team members find better jobs, and our clients better business partners, if Frontier is no longer their best choice.

Are we really your best choice?

“Are we really your best choice? Isn’t either X, Y or Z a better option for you? Why don’t you check with them first?”

Sometimes we give bizarre responses, like the above, when a client approaches us to do something outside of our focus areas. For many, it is a notion that’s a little difficult to comprehend, but this comes from our core values that guide us in what we do:

In particular a core value we have is we help all stakeholders make the BEST CHOICE, even if it is not with Frontier.

We believe it is the right thing to do, to help team members find better jobs, and our clients better business partners, if Frontier is no longer their best choice.

As our business grew, we have built our “brand” and “relationships”, not only about the specific work we carry out, but in a general perspective that we could be trusted and good at a variety of things. However, we don’t really want this developed comfort and familiarity to be something that wins us business. If someone is better than us at a certain job, we believe that we are only adding negative value by trying to do the same. We want to be the best. Ideally, “the only ones.”:

We also like to ask ourselves the question; ‘what valuable products/services are not being offered?’. This is the strategic ethic that has driven us since our inception, and as the market changed around us, we have so far been able to keep expanding into new areas, and hope to keep doing so.

Our values could sometimes be confused as “new-averse” due to our discomfort in robbing someone of business they do better.

We are, however, definitely willing to venture into unexplored waters looking for new things that no one else does.  We are experiencing change in the way we do things and we do not shy away from opportunities to rapidly experiment with new ideas.  But we do not take anything head on just because there is a simple opportunity for us when we are well aware that there is someone who could do it better.

We believe businesses are there to solve problems and if we are not the best choice to solve a problem, we think we are only demeaning the value of our stakeholders’ time and the work entrusted upon us.

We apply the same values to our internal stakeholders. Recruits and current team members are constantly allowed to question if, “Frontier is the best choice for them?” They could function better at a different environment or belong in an entirely different field altogether. We allow and often encourage and guide them to make that choice, providing direction into understanding what suits them best.

For us, it’s not all about saying “YES”, but to make sure the client chooses the most optimal solution possible – even if it’s not with us.

The Rule to Guide All Rules – Week 1

As a norm we curate and extract from other published articles for Friday Focus. However, this time around, we’ve got a few of our own thoughts extracted from our blog. This is the first of many to come and will explore Frontier’s way of doing things.

For many, maintaining law and order requires the existence of stringent rules. But do we really need that many of them?

Here’s why we think rules aren’t mandatory. 

 

Rules are generally accepted as a necessary evil, created to maintain order in the chaotic world we live in. This applies to the workplace, as much as anywhere else. However, in a workplace, these rules don’t always need to be written into a book that every employee simply must refer. At Frontier we don’t believe in setting up a rule book for two main reasons;

  1. You don’t need policies for everything. For example: at Netflix, a company whose culture deck gave us a lot of ideas says “there is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one comes to work naked”. Many rules are generally known and accepted; they don’t need re-stating.
  2. Simply because someone made a mistake years ago doesn’t mean we need a policy.We don’t penalize the many for the mistakes of the few.

Thus, we can reduce the number of rules to be published in an employee manual to the “golden rule” or the 3-word policy of Use Good Judgement. This can be considered the “rule to guide all rules”. It is expected that people working at Frontier would use their common sense and good judgement rather than having to refer to a list of rules every now and then.

In the event that someone does make some bad judgement, our response will depend on whether that mistake is “mission critical” or not;

  • If it is a mission critical issue or likely that many others might make the same mistake: We will talk about it so everyone understands and it could go into a process book (a small guide we use to support decision making in complex situations)to avoid any future confusion over the matter.
  • If not:

o   At times we will let it slide (to see if it repeats, in order to assess if it is bad judgement or carelessness)

o   At times it will be dealt with quickly, mostly individually.

Broadly, making “bad judgements” impacts perceptions towards one’s judgment/maturity. This is symmetric to Frontier’s relationships with its clients. What our CEO, Amal Sanderatne, says and does matters, in the context of how clients perceive Frontier. This is implicit in all firms; even those with big rule books still rely on judgment. It’s about demonstrating maturity and professionalism.

 

Not every action requires a rule to supervise. Next week we’ll show you how we judge conduct at work.

For more on the Frontier way, visit our blog.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!