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What's your frontier?

Good morning innovators, change-makers, and entrepreneurs.


This newsletter and podcast feature stories about the people – past, present and future – who change the world.  They make decisions and take actions enlivened by what I call The Entrepreneur’s Ethic.  The Entrepreneur’s Ethic infuses people, organizations and places where the future is created, and the world is made a better place.


One of the Entrepreneurs featured in my upcoming book, The Entrepreneur’s Ethic, is John Deere, the historic agricultural entrepreneur. Deere’s fame and fortune resulted from his work innovating the plow over decades, that most ancient of agricultural tools.

There are seven parts of The Entrepreneur’s Ethic. Deere’s work exemplifies Ethic 6: Enjoy the Edge. This is the truth-seeking-orientation of entrepreneurship.

John Deere moved to the frontier in the 1830s, close to the Mississippi River that’s now the border between Illinois and Iowa. In this week’s podcast I interview Deere historian and archivist Neil Dahlstrom about John Deere and his legacy.

Neil describes John Deere as a frontier entrepreneur archetype. You’ll enjoy learning about what he means by this and how a frontier mindset might be useful for you today.


You’ll also be interested to learn from Neil about how Deere almost exited the tractor business shortly after having entered it. In 1921, Deere sold a total of 79 tractors. For a whole year, that was it. Deere didn’t profit in the tractor business for almost ten years. We can view facts such as Deere being the tractor business as historic inevitabilities, but that is not the case. At. All. The world we see today is contingent upon past decisions of entrepreneurs, executives, inventors, innovators and change-makers and often the important decisions were close-run things. The decisions could have just as likely went a different direction and today would look much different.

Good Reads






Three Things I Think (I Think)


Part of John Deere’s frontier was geographic. Traveling from his native Vermont to the Midwest in the 1830s by foot, horse and wagon was no small journey.


And there is something significant in traveling to or moving to new places.


A friend once urged me to travel to Alaska.


“Why?” I asked.


“It’s the last frontier,” was his reply.


There is something chaotic about frontiers, but also something deeply human about seeking them out. Geographic frontiers are today so much less…frontiers. Antarctica is visited by more than fifty thousand tourists each year. More than four thousand people have successfully climbed Mount Everest.


Is it any surprise that we’re on the cusp of space tourism? Colonization of Mars? "Where no man has gone before," is the line from the original Star Trek television series. I really liked that show when I was young, but apparently Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and others took it waaaay more seriously!


There was much more to John Deere’s frontier than just geography over the course of his career and life. He was driven to improve the plow, that most ancient of human tools, over decades. He was curious about the plow and so much more.


How do you seek out your frontiers?


1.     What’s in your library? – John Deere, frontier entrepreneur and blacksmith, kept an extensive library. He was deeply curious about issues related to his business and beyond. He didn’t have the benefit of an extensive formal education but never used that an excuse to limit continual and life-long learning. I understand that some people don’t like reading. Sort of, anyway. But in today’s world, that’s not a good excuse when audiobooks and podcasts give you access to so much. And everyone likes to listen to a good story.

2.     How do you meet new people? – Part of your frontier is the people you haven't met yet who can make a difference in your life and for whom you can make a difference. John Deere was good at recognizing what he was and was not good at and sought out people who he could learn from as well as help.

3.      What are the frontier opportunities in your community? – Sometimes frontiers are close to us. What are the issues, problems and things that need to be fixed that are close to you, but no one is working to resolve? John Deere had a well-developed moral compass and in the 1850s became active in the abolition movement and the founding of the new Republican political party as well as supporting a frontier politician he had met named Abraham Lincoln. We can look back on that activity and say 'of course it made sense,' but it was much less obvious and much more controversial at the time.



Farm to My Table


I write this week’s newsletter from Australia. We’ve enjoyed much good food, but have particularly enjoyed some of the steakhouses. The menu below is indicative of those we’ve experienced. While not unique to Australia, it struck me how much steak menus at some places are starting to resemble wine lists. The breed, feeding method, location and farm are described in vivid detail.


Meat. Menus. Resembling. Wine. Lists. Is. A. Very. Good. Thing.


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