In 1994, James Collins and Jerry Porras wrote a book called Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. In it, they described the concept of the BHAG (pronounced BEE-hag), which stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. They identified several companies they felt had a vision that was so audacious and ambitious that it ensured their longevity. The clarity and strength of their visions was grounded in something bigger than their technical capabilities. And they argued that companies are stronger when they’re clear about what they’re trying to accomplish while remaining responsive. In other words, “Companies that enjoy enduring success have core values and a core purpose that remain fixed while their business strategies and practices endlessly adapt to a changing world.”
Ford Motor Company’s BHAG, for example, was to democratize the automobile. By following this idea over its 115 years, it has faced adversity but has continuously adapted and survived. The statistic is particularly impressive when we consider that according to Arie de Gues, lead strategist for many years at Shell, the average life expectancy of the modern corporation is only 50 years.
Once you’re born, it’s hard to be anything else.
This issue of Frontier Magazine focuses on the start of the journey: the beginning. In many ways, it’s a reflection on our own start as a company. We’ve just been born and the question leading up to that moment has been: What do we want to be?
Once you’re born, it’s hard to be anything else. Many companies try to evolve from one thing to another, but they usually fail because they just weren’t set up that way from the start. Apple will never be a clothing company, despite some interesting forays. Nike will never be a technology company, as their recent retreat on the FuelBand indicates. They know their core. Their entire business is structured around it. So they stick to it.
But the beginning is a tantalizing thing. In the beginning, you can decide who you are and what you want to be. Design companies are traditionally set up to service client projects. We get paid fees, and we perform a service. But here we are, these groups of amazingly talented people whose gift is inventing and bringing new things into the world. And we only work on other people’s projects?
What if we were to take a step back and identify our own Big Hairy Audacious Goal? What if that BHAG was to help the world to take more creative risks? To help it be inspired and create new things? How would you set yourself up to deliver on that promise?
In our case, we’re working on providing people with three things to help them in their creative journeys.
First is the inspiration they need in the form of this magazine, dedicated to the creative risks that people take when creating something new and meaningful.
Second are a series of projects we’re starting ourselves. These ventures are focused on creating all sorts of things that we believe will help people in their own journeys of creative exploration. They could be technologies or gear to wear when heading out on adventures.
Finally, we are a design studio that works with others to help them achieve their own creative goals. We collaborate with clients who share this spirit of exploration and help them create and communicate their experiences in a way that gets people excited.
This journey is not without risk. Mixing these three things together is unorthodox. We don’t know of anyone else doing it. So we’re not sure what happens, frankly, when they meet or when they compete.
Frontier is a magazine that focuses on our readers’ interests. But if we’re also a studio, we have to focus on the interests of our clients. What if we’re working on a project with a client we love so much that we want to feature it in the magazine? Is that advertising? Is that truly keeping the interests of our readers at heart?
What happens when we’re challenged by a client who would like to be featured in the magazine but whose products we don’t admire enough to share with our readers? In other words, what happens when the interests of our readers and our clients conflict?
We’ll undoubtedly face big questions as we get into it, and we may struggle to find the answers at times. But that’s a big part of what all of this is about. We’re trying to do something new, and that means we’ll run into things we can’t anticipate.
There’s inevitable friction in trying to do something new. And we’re fairly certain we can serve both our clients and our readers. Part of doing that is being transparent. As a reader, you have a right to know whether the subject of a story is also a client of ours or whether they paid money to have a presence in our magazine in the form of an ad.
What’s at the heart of Frontier is creative exploration and creative risk-taking. We’ll undoubtedly face big questions as we get into it, and we may struggle to find the answers at times. But that’s a big part of what all of this is about. We’re trying to do something new, and that means we’ll run into things we can’t anticipate.
So it’s our own beginning, and we’re trying to explore this new frontier. We’re a magazine, ventures, and a studio — a magavendio? While our Big Hairy Audacious Goal may be to help the world learn to take more creative risks, it may also well be to change the world’s understanding of what design can do. Some have already said that what we’re doing is confusing, that we should simplify and focus on one thing. Maybe that’s true. But we think we’re onto something. And we’ve got to begin somewhere. So we’ve got to try this first.
Our inaugural issue of Frontier Magazine includes:
- An inside look at the design process of the new WayHome Music & Arts Festival
- A photo essay by renowned photographer Cristina de Middel
- An interview with Charles Adler, Kickstarter co-founder
- A survey of startups from Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District
- An introduction to a new ambitious project to create the world’s best tuque
The magazine is supported by partners of the likes of; MaRS Discovery District, RGD, Flash Reproductions, Fogo Island Inn, Design Exchange, Tendril, Drake General Store, and Steam Whistle Brewery.
The inaugural print edition of Frontier Magazine is available for purchase here.