Introducing a New Business Division at Nansen: Fridtjof Labs

Change is coming to Nansen. We’re so excited to talk about Fridtjof Labs, a new division we’re introducing that will sit alongside our Agency Services and help power our efforts to deliver cutting-edge work into the future. But before we get into the details about Fridtjof Labs, it will help to take a quick trip into the past.

In December 2021, members of our leadership team had a meeting. It was almost two years into the pandemic, and two and a half years into a really challenging project that had cost the company a lot of time and money. But the mood in the meeting was surprisingly positive. Nansen had survived the abrupt changes of the pandemic and the tumult of the long-term project. The company had remained profitable, and actually hired a number of great team members during 2020 and 2021. And now that the consuming and expensive client project had ended, a whole slice of the budget was available. 

What the team in that meeting saw in front of them was a truly unique opportunity. Our industry, like nearly every other, was transforming, undergoing massive changes that had started before yet rapidly accelerated during the pandemic. Recent experiences by the Nansen team, including but not limited to the challenges of that long-term client project, had also prompted a period of reassessment within our walls.

What was most important to us as individuals? What mattered most to us as an organization? 

How might we evolve our working culture and environment to serve our team members and our values? How could we best tell our story moving forward?

Faced with this unique opportunity, Nansen leadership in that meeting decided to allocate the newly available budget to internal projects. The goal was to develop new ways to answer questions like the ones above—and to help Nansen thrive in times of rapid change like the one we’re in now.

It wasn’t long before the idea for Fridtjof Labs was born.

Nansen Engagement Manager Jarrett Arnold, the driving force behind the project, says that he was inspired by the core Nansen offering: delivering truly impactful, innovative work to our clients. To sustain that essential capability in the midst of industry (and global) transformation requires that we at Nansen do some transformation of our own. And the team is ready for it! 

So Jarrett looked to Fridtjof Fridays, an internal program (inspired by scientist and explorer Fridtjof Nansen) that was established to carve out time every other week for Nansen team members to do independent projects or education. The program aligned beautifully with our values—but it wasn’t working. Some team members never got to take advantage of it, because they were too busy with client work. Others felt that the time allocated was too short and too spread out. Others just weren’t sure what to work on.

The idea behind Fridtjof Fridays, however, was strong. It represented Nansen’s commitment to individuality and spirit to create and share, by creating space to express our passions, explore new ideas and technologies and ways of working. So Jarrett decided to revive it, with some thoughtful changes, as Fridtjof Labs.

Like its predecessor, Fridtjof Labs will be all about exploration and experimentation. But it will take that ambition one step further, and seek to cultivate a more innovative in-house culture overall at Nansen. 

The Fridtjof Labs division has six key goals:

 

  1. Provide undisturbed time for projects people want to explore
  2. Apply group efforts (rather than individual) to shared ideas
  3. Create opportunities for people to work together who otherwise would not
  4. Use process and outcomes as a marketing tool to drive new business and recruit talent
  5. Strengthen our process efficiency for rapidly innovating within our service offerings
  6. Generate an internal product portfolio that reduces our current dependency on client revenue

 

To accomplish these goals, the program will empower teams of three to spend five days on a project of experimentation. The team will ideate, prototype, learn, and build together. We hope that each Nansen team member will do five or six rotations in Fridtjof Labs each year, where they’ll get to “flex the muscle” of rapid innovation and practice executing on their ideas, strengthening not only their capabilities but also those of Nansen.

As we get closer to putting this concept into action, questions remain. How can we afford to allow people off-project for a full week several times per year, plus vacations? What are planning and outcome expectations? What does this mean for Personal Development? Each of those questions will get the attention it requires.

In the meantime, we hope that the promise of Fridtjof Labs gets you as excited as it does us. We look forward to sending more updates as Nansen team members begin their experiments and propel our business into the future.