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Welcome to the New Lantern blog. Our goal is to shine light on leading innovators and creative artists, and how your business can learn and profit from them. Companies large, medium, and small can benefit from employees who think more creatively. New Lantern may be just the source of inspiration your company needs to spark more innovative products, services, and processes.

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Monthly Archive for May, 2009

Copying Xerox

Posted by on May 29, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Ursula Burns of XeroxUrsula Burns

Three cheers for Xerox and its Board of Directors. On July 1, Xerox President Ursula Burns will take over as the company’s CEO replacing Anne Mulcahy, who will become chairman. This action is monumental on a number of levels, and it provides a teaching moment for many corporate boards, executives and managers.

First, Burns becomes the first African American woman to run a large global company, with sales of nearly $18 billion last year. Second, it represents the first time that a woman CEO is being replaced by another woman CEO at a large company. Third, this action is the result of a corporate culture at Xerox that has for decades promoted the notion of giving every employee—regardless of race or gender–an opportunity to succeed. It is this trait in particular that other companies should truly seek to copy.

Ursula Burns was named CEO because she earned it. And most importantly, she was given the chance to earn it over the course of her 29-year career at Xerox. Working her way up the ranks as a mechanical engineer, she was afforded opportunities to succeed–and fail–as she took on greater management responsibilities.

Companies far too often identify a relatively small subset of employees to groom for possible advancement. These employees usually get exclusive and subtle opportunities to advance (e.g., face-time with the boss at sporting events or golf outings), and some not-so-subtle (e.g., accolades and promotions).

In some cases, these employees are identified because they are a more comfortable facsimile of their managers. As this week’s Business Week’s cover story (June 8th) points out, less than 16 percent of corporate officers are women among Fortune 500 companies, despite representing nearly 60% of the workforce. (Comparatively, one third of executives at Xerox are women, and 22 percent are minorities).

Men promoting men are not always to blame. Ironically, women already on the corporate ladder are sometimes hesitant to reach back to help another woman grab the next rung. I have witnessed this phenomenon myself, which has also been borne out in a number of studies in recent years. So outgoing Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy herself –who helped restore profitability to Xerox with a focus on innovation– deserves a lot of credit for giving Burns a chance to grow and advance within the company.

Dick Harrington, retired CEO of Thompson Corporation, and my former boss –serves on the Xerox Board of Directors and always spoke very highly of Mulcahy and Burns.

In the end, women or minorities should not be promoted simply because of their gender or race. They should be allowed to advance because they are given the same opportunities for development and growth, and succeed. Companies increase their own chances for success if they seek to mine and develop talent from every employee. Otherwise, a company and its shareholders will miss out on untapped resources — and will not reap the benefits of an Anne Mulcahy or an Ursula Burns.

The Creative Powers of Bryant Park

Posted by on May 22, 2009 at 10:40 pm

New York's Bryant Park

One of my favorite places is Bryant Park in New York City, named for the American poet, journalist, and New York Evening Post editor – William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878).

Bryant Park is a modern day oasis in the heart of Manhattan situated on a plot of land with a long history in one of the most storied cities in the world. First designated as a public space in 1686 by New York’s colonial Governor, Thomas Dongan, it later served as a crossing for General George Washington and his troops in 1776 as they retreated from the Battle of Long Island. Fifty years later the land served as a potter’s field.

The first park at the site opened in 1847 as Reservoir Park. During the Civil War in the 1860s, the park was used for military drills. In 1884, it was renamed Bryant Park in honor of William Cullen Bryant who had died six years earlier. The park’s nadir was during the 1970s, when it served as home to drug dealers, prostitutes and the homeless. In 1988, it underwent a major renovation and re-opened in 1992 with much acclaim.

Today, Bryant Park is a hub of creativity — home to New York’s celebrated “Fashion Week” and HBO’s “Summer Film Festival.” The park’s vast expanse of green lawn is framed by scores of large, majestic plane trees (i.e., sycamore), descendants of the plane trees found along some of Europe’s most picturesque city streets. Bryant Park is a wonderful place to read a book, sip a cup of coffee, or simply watch humanity pass you by.

It would be difficult to find a more fitting namesake for the park. William Cullen Bryant was a driving force behind the idea of New York’s Central Park, and helped in the creation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His poetry has been described as “thoughtful and meditative.”

Bryant Park is a showcase for how passion, perseverance, and creativity can transform an ordinary or forgotten space into a special and inspirational place. Let New Lantern help you transform your business into a more creative and productive place – worthy of your company’s name.

Plane Tree bark of Bryant Park

Importance of Corporate Diversity (of Thought)

Posted by on May 15, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Celebrate diversity The employees who make up today’s most successful corporations should not only reflect diversity of race, gender, and ethnicity — but also reflect diversity of thought, ideas, and experiences. As obvious as this may seem, many corporations unfortunately promote a culture that rewards a lack of diversity when it comes to idea generation and challenging the status quo.

Consider the employee or manager who tries hard to emulate the boss as a means to move up the ladder. Dressing in similar clothes, speaking in a similar style, and demonstrating some of the same interests. Sound familiar? Yet sadly enough these are indeed the managers who many times find themselves on the succession planning list.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Maybe so. But it’s also the surest way to dumb down your organization, by creating parrots who seek to echo the boss rather than generate new ideas and approaches.

Shareholders deserve better. It should start with a corporate leadership team that resists the seduction of imitative flattery. They should seek to encourage an environment that embraces diversity — of people, creative thought, and unbridled innovation in every shape and form. And the management team itself should reflect this diversity and set the example for the rest of the organization.

A baseball team made up only of left-handed pitchers will never get to the World Series. Likewise, the road to your company’s success will not be paved with how well your employees compliment the boss, but how well a diverse group of employees can complement one another.

Add ‘Whimsy’ to Your Corporate Vocabulary

Posted by on May 7, 2009 at 9:05 pm

Weidman's 'Dummy Cat'
One of my favorite art finds in recent years is the “Dummy Cat” by David Weidman, which hangs in my Manhattan apartment. It is a signed serigraph print, which I bought at an outdoor flea market in Chelsea several years ago for $40. You can buy one today from Weidman’s own website for $250.

It wasn’t so much the bargain that attracted me to the Weidman piece, but the fanciful cat itself. As an admitted cat lover (I have four), I of course liked the subject. But as an art enthusiast, I also liked the way you feel when you look at Weidman’s cat – it makes you smile.

Dummy Cat is a signature piece of Weidman’s, who today at age 87 has left quite a mark on the art, graphic design, and animation worlds over the last six decades. He began his career in the 1950s as an animator for the famed Hanna-Barbera studio in Los Angeles. He soon began working for himself, and in the decades that followed, created a unique and iconic style.

In December 2008, Gingko Press published The Whimsical Work of David Weidman – and Also Some Serious Ones. According to the publisher’s press release, Weidman’s “staggering body of work is as modern and visually stunning as it was forty years ago,” and added, “he never stopped experimenting as an artist.”

There is a lesson here for all of us, particularly those who are managing today’s businesses during trying economic times. Managers should resist the urge to hunker down, withdraw, and play it safe. Now is exactly the time to take a page from Weidman’s animated book – to re-double efforts, and challenge employees to create and to “experiment.”

You should also add “whimsy” to your corporate vocabulary. Nurture and celebrate those within your organization who turn dreams and fancy into innovative products and services – and in doing so, enable your business to grow and thrive.

Growing Your ROEI

Posted by on May 3, 2009 at 3:17 pm

ROEI art

Is your company getting a good return on employee investment (ROEI)? Considering the total investment you have in each employee, you need to know that the benefits derived from an employee are in fact outweighing the costs. Costs typically include the base salary, bonus, stock and/or options, health and dental benefits, paid vacation, sick leave, 401(k) match, Social Security, Medicare, payroll taxes (UI), training, computer, phone – and more.

Companies spend a lot of time and energy measuring and growing their non-human investments, and dedicate considerable attention to getting a good return. Boards of Directors and shareholders hold publicly-traded companies’ feet to the fire on these returns as they relate to the investment costs – and rightfully so. But do they hold their investments in human capital to the same level of scrutiny? No, and usually it’s not even close.

How do you explain this, particularly when human capital-related costs are sometimes the largest single expense in a company? It is frankly indefensible. Most companies think they are doing enough by measuring employee performance via a merit-based compensation program. Whereas employee measurement is important, it is no substitute for getting a full return on the investment of that employee.

So what is the answer? A company should start by caring as much for its employees as it does for its non-human assets. Many companies pay handsomely to protect their reputations and to enhance their images with expensive public relations and advertising campaigns. They also spend large sums on buying or leasing space, maintaining and upgrading it regularly; and they spend heavily on facility security, technology and equipment upgrades, and facility grounds and upkeep.

I don’t dispute the need for these investments, but they are no more important than the upkeep and improvement of a company’s single most important investment – its employees.

Companies should constantly challenge employees through value-added training and development. They should utilize creative compensation programs to spur greater productivity and innovation. Companies should meanwhile be aggressive in managing out those employees who are not holding up their end of the bargain – that is, those employees who are taking more from the organization than they are giving to it.

In short, an employer should seek to appreciate its largest appreciating asset by mining and growing the talent that exists in its current workforce. Improving your ROI is smart business, and so is improving your ROEI.