The great article below by Lindsay Kohler considers recent research, published in Nature Human Behaviour, that detects the revival of long concealed habits, common among frontier settlers, but rarely seen until the current pandemic. This “frontier mentality” manifests in lack of trust, formation of clans and more extreme risk-taking. It may be explained by similarities in the environment of the frontier and that of the pandemic, e.g. relentless isolation and persistent unseen threats. 

The media is awash with stories about the distrust of government or scientists. We see the creation of clans, for example in the protest groups that refuse to wear masks, putting their lives and those of others at risk. In business organisations too, some of this “frontier mentality” is evident but harder to detect and the effects can be crippling. As Kohler puts it – “employees in high-trust environments have long been known to be more productive, have more energy, and collaborate better than those in low-trust environments.”.

The combination of these negative traits leads to misunderstandings, which are made much more difficult to resolve due to remote working. Like frontier settlers, organisations have heightened nervous systems made raw by the current environment. Dr Mike Carter draws attention to this in an example of how it has led to resentment of furloughed workers by those still holding the fort. Kohler describes some schemes to mitigate the effects of “frontier mentality”, but organisations need to determine for themselves if they have the problem by looking out for danger signals from within – much like checking your business’s ‘nervous system'.