Jackson Turner addressed the American Historical Association at the
Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893 at the age of 31 with a paper that changed
forever the way the world thinks of Americans while at the same time
bringing the French word frontier
into English parlance. Since that time he has been rebutted and debated, but
the idea he introduced held fast.
claimed that pioneers who landed on the east coast of the US fresh from
Europe behaved and thought
like they had in their native lands. As they moved westward they
encountered circumstances and territory vastly different that
brought out of them different ways of thinking and acting. These new
behaviors were brash, independent, bold, innovative… the very
essence of being a frontiersman.
Here is an excerpt from his writing:
frontier is the outer edge… the meeting point between savagery and
civilization… The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a
European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, and thought. It
takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It
strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting
shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin… In short, at
the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man. He
must accept the conditions which it furnishes, or perish… Little by
little he transforms the wilderness, but the outcome is not the old
Europe… The fact is, that here is a new product that is American.”
One can imagine a similar frontier in business today. But it is not the
harsh circumstances of a land untamed. Today’s wild is born of a
challenging economy and the complexities of life in the 21st century.
Leaders today find themselves subject to a different kind of danger.
Their environment consists of shifting business models,
government quagmires, fierce competitors, and upended industries.
The leaders who succeed on today’s arduous frontier may be challenged
by the harshness and difficulty of current circumstance, but they
author the future. They are the progenitors of tomorrow.