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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 August, 2009

‘Leaving’ a Good Impression

Posted by on August 30, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Rita Randolph's concrete leaf art
Randolph’s Greenhouses sits on a nondescript stretch of highway in West Tennessee on the outskirts of Jackson. There you’ll find Rita Randolph, one of the country’s top container garden artists at work, running from one greenhouse to another, making her next potted creation or selling a flat of annuals or perennials to a customer.

Fine Gardening magazine recently showcased Randolph’s work in a special edition on container gardens. But now during the hot southern days of late August, Randolph has closed her nursery as she does every year, and has turned her attention to a different type of artistic creation – making concrete garden art. For example, she’s making concrete leaves from impressions of the real thing. Leaves of hosta, elephant ears, banana plants, pipers, and other large-leaf plants cut from her greenhouses serve as real-life molds for her work.

She also conducts classes during August on Saturdays and Sundays for those who would like to learn this special craft. I took one of Randolph’s concrete leaf-making classes yesterday. Mixing the concrete by hand, shaping and working the wet sand to form to perfect foundation for the leaf, and painstakingly applying the concrete one small “patty” at a time over the leaf itself made for laborious and tedious work. It also required an artistic touch and eye to replicate the natural folds and undulations of the plant’s leaf.

I spent almost three hours working on the first phase of a two-foot by three-foot elephant ear leaf impression. I had to leave it there to cure for at least a week before I can pick it up, and then attempt to paint it. So the jury is still out on how my concrete leaf will actually turn out. But the time spent at Randolph’s gave me the opportunity to view her own beautiful concrete leaf creations, in every size and shape, hue and texture.

Her leaf work already rivals some of the best in the country, including those made by famed garden art designers George Little and David Lewis of Bainbridge Island, Washington, whose garden and artwork I saw two years ago on a trip to nearby Seattle.

Randolph estimates she’s already made (or assisted others in making) over 1,000 concrete leaves. That’s a lot of concrete, sand, mixing, and dirt under the fingernails. But dirt under the fingernails is nothing new for Randolph, who has been in and around plants all of her life. Twenty-six years ago, she bought the now 62-year old nursery business from her parents, the source of her passion for plants.

Randolph’s recipe for success as an innovative garden artist is instructive for those of us in other professions. First, distinguish yourself through creativity and an eye for design. Next, you’ll need to work hard – very hard — and get more than a little dirt under your fingernails. And finally, be passionate about what you do. If so, you might just find yourself leaving a good impression on your own clientele.

The Impact of Color and Creativity

Posted by on August 21, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Dan Bleier art image

“Color, creativity and sophistication” are the three words used by contemporary artist Dan Bleier to describe his “core values as an artist.”

From his Chelsea studio in Manhattan, Bleier has produced colorful and innovative art, sculptures and furniture made from resins and glass tiles for over 30 years. His projects have been showcased by leading architects and global designers, including Chanel and Dior. His art has been exhibited in top galleries around the country. And a commissioned sculpture by Bleier serves as the centerpiece at the corporate headquarters at General Mills in Minneapolis, MN.

Bleier admits that he was generally not a good math student in his youth, but that he did excel in geometry. “I would often get lost in the colors and shapes of the room I was in or the architecture around me,” according to Bleier.

Dan Bleier

Bleier’s success as an artist and designer is derived from his constantly seeking to find shapes and colors that have a “quality and sense of purpose lacking in much contemporary art today.” Bleier explains, “In the process of drawing I find shapes and patterns that I have never seen or imagined before.”

I met recently with Bleier in his studio. I was indeed struck by the intense colors, the rich patina of his glass tiles, and his inventive use of resins. Bleier’s work clearly evokes a 60s modernism feel – with designs as fresh and edgy today as they would’ve been 45 years ago. And I very much liked the artist himself, who had a great smile and energy that serves to further enhance the impact of his work.

A successful artist or designer takes ingredients and materials that are available to everyone, but is able to combine and present them in a way that creates a unique experience and a lasting impression.

Take a fresh approach to a product or service offering within your own company. Foster and celebrate those employees who find ways to inject color and creativity into their work. Focus less on an employee’s weaknesses (e.g., in math), and more on his or her strengths (e.g., in geometry).

I’m certain you’ll like the results and the impact it will make on your customers and your bottom line.

Happy Trails to a Washington Trailblazer

Posted by on August 12, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Anne Wexler on cover of Washingtonian magazine (Oct 2007)

Anne Wexler, legendary Washington insider and lobbyist, lost her fight to cancer last week at the age of 79.

Wexler’s career spanned five decades, and touched some of the biggest names in politics and business. In 1970, as campaign manager to then-Connecticut Senate candidate, Joseph Duffey, Wexler brought on two young volunteers — Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham. Duffey lost that race, but gained a partner for life, Anne Wexler, who he later married. And Wexler also gained lifelong friends with the former President and current Secretary of State.

In the mid-70s, Wexler served as an associate publisher for Rolling Stone magazine, overseeing its presence in Washington. During the Carter Administration, she served as Under Secretary at the Commerce Department until President Carter brought her to the White House to improve his relationship with business and other key constituencies.

The day after President Reagan was sworn into office in 1981 Wexler started a lobbying consulting firm, joined by two other Carter veterans, Gail Harrison and Bob Schule. The old boys in town quickly panned the notion of a woman-led lobbying firm, but those catcalls soon turned to admiration. Through hard work, tenacity, and political smarts she landed some of the biggest client names in business, including General Motors, American Airlines, and the Motion Picture Association of America.

In 1983, she brought on a new partner, who happened not only to be another high-powered woman, but a Republican — Nancy Clark Reynolds. Reynolds was a former senior aide to Ronald Reagan when he was Governor of California.

Together, Wexler and Reynolds were not only turning heads, but they were turning the powerful lobbying industry on its head. They were the first major lobbying firm in town to be run by two women, and the first one to recognize the importance of bipartisan government relations. They were breaking down long-established walls — and enjoying every minute of it.

I know first-hand because my husband worked for Wexler at her firm (known today as Wexler & Walker) for 12 years from 1989-2000. “Anne is a class act” he was fond of saying, and he had the very highest respect for her, and so did I.

Washingtonian magazine listed Wexler as one of the 10 most powerful lobbyists in DC, noting: “She is easily the most influential female lobbyist in a world still dominated by men.” Upon learning of her death, President Jimmy Carter issued a statement, calling Wexler a “remarkably effective” public servant. Through “her integrity” she brought a “good image” to lobbying.

A memorial service for Wexler will be held on October 20 at the Kennedy Center.

Trailblazers like Anne Wexler come along only once in a while to help chart a new course for others to follow. Her impact on the business of Washington should serve as a guidepost for every business. Set out to blaze your own trail, be willing to embrace change, and innovate — and enjoy every bit of the journey.

Make August ‘Business Innovation Month’

Posted by on August 5, 2009 at 4:22 pm

It’s not been an easy year — for anyone.

Businesses, families, and individuals have shared the stress and strain of a tumultuous economy. Anxiety levels among employees have approached historic highs in the wake of foreclosures, bankruptcies, lay-offs, and frozen or reduced salaries. Meanwhile, corporate executives and managers have been forced to make tough decisions that have undoubtedly resulted in more than a couple of sleepless nights.

Now there is talk of the economy turning a corner, and hopefully this is true. But such a corner, if it does materialize, will first come to the macro world before it is seen by many in the micro world. And it’s at the micro level where individual companies and each of their employees live.

August has traditionally served as the most popular month for vacations in Corporate America and throughout many parts of the world. August to most employees means time away from the office, more time spent with family, time spent at the beach or on a lake or quietly at home.

On one hand, this makes August one of the least productive months of the year in terms of business output. On the other, I would contend that vacation time in fact contributes to a more productive employee upon his or her return. And this is not an insignificant point, particularly considering the rough ride that 2009 has been thus far.

So I would recommend that managers encourage employees to take some time off this month, and they should lead by example. Get away from the office. Shut down the BlackBerry. Clear the head and refuel the batteries, and come back to work in a more creative and innovative frame of mind.

In doing so, your executive team may soon have a new respect for August and how it can contribute to a more promising and profitable second half of 2009.