New Lantern

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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 November, 2009

Your Next Big Idea

Posted by on November 29, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Harvard Business Review cover - Dec 2009

With its cover entitled, “Your Next Big Idea: Spotlight on Innovation,” the entire edition of December’s Harvard Business Review magazine is dedicated to business innovation. A number of the articles go right to the heart of New Lantern’s founding principle: employees, if properly motivated and stimulated, are a company’s single most important innovation source.

As HBR’s editor-in-chief Adi Ignatius puts it, “Genius CEOs can’t do all the work of innovation – and in truth, people and culture both matter a lot.”

In one of the lead articles, “The Innovator’s DNA,” authors Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen, highlight the five “discovery skills” that “separate true innovators from the rest of us.” These skills include: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Experimenting, and Networking.

The authors interviewed 25 innovative entrepreneurs, and surveyed over 3,000 executives and 500 individuals, who had started innovative companies or invented new products. They charted these individuals against the five discovery skills and found a high correlation among leading innovators.

For example, under the “Associating” skill, entrepreneur Frans Johansson cited the importance of the “Medici effect” when it comes to innovation. He was referring to the Medici family of Florence during the 15th through 17th centuries, who helped usher in a “creative explosion” by bringing together successful people from wide ranging disciplines such as: sculptors, scientists, poets, philosophers, painters, and architects.

According to the article, “as these individuals connected, new ideas blossomed at the intersections of their respective fields, thereby spawning the Renaissance, one of the most inventive eras in history.”

Likewise, many leading innovators seek to spend time around a network of thought leaders and individuals from a variety of different perspectives in an effort to “extend their own knowledge domains.” For example, they attend conferences such as TED, Davos, and the Aspen Ideas Festival, which brings together artists, entrepreneurs, academics, politicians, adventurers, scientists, and thinkers from all over the globe.

Kent Bowen, who founded the innovative ceramic composite company, CPS, cites this credo which he asks his employees to follow: “The insights required to solve many of our most challenging problems come from outside our industry and scientific field.”

Finally, the authors make the point – as we have made in numerous blog posts on this site – that whereas innovative thinking may seem innate to some, “it can also be developed and strengthened through practice.” They note that corporate executives should “put aside time for you and your team to actively cultivate more creative ideas.”

Let New Lantern design an innovation program for your company that would make the Medici family proud – and in doing so, put you in the best position to make your next big idea a reality.

Giving Thanks

Posted by on November 24, 2009 at 7:17 pm

During this upcoming holiday season make it a point to give thanks to those who matter most to your company: your employees, customers, partners, and shareholders.

The simple gesture of showing your appreciation sends an important message about your company and its culture. It shows you value those who contribute to the success of the enterprise. It also says you realize that achievement in business is a team effort, and does not reside only in the C-level suites.

So find a good opportunity to use the two short words that could be just the salve that’s needed to put you on the road to a better place in 2010. And mean it when you say it. Thank you.

Putting ‘Custom’ Back Into Customer

Posted by on November 16, 2009 at 7:44 pm

This past Saturday, I toured the showroom and factory of Quantum Windows and Doors in Everett, WA. In the era of mass-produced “replacement windows,” “aluminum-clad,” and “life-time guarantee” plastic windows, Quantum is a throwback in time. Quantum is a custom window and door manufacturer, which makes its products solely from the world’s oldest sustainable material: wood.

Quantum is the window manufacturer of choice for many of the top residential and commercial architects in the country. Its windows and doors can be found in discriminating building projects from New York to Hawaii, Washington DC, California, and the Pacific Northwest. Windows are made of choice hardwoods, including mahogany, teak, Douglas fir, and oak. Although I will not disclose some of Quantum’s residential clients, suffice it to say that many of them are household names.

Real sash weights are used to raise and lower the double- and triple-hung windows, utilizing the same technology that has opened American windows for generations. Meanwhile, cutting-edge technologies in large wall-sized sliding glass doors are able to lift and gently glide 800-pound windows with only two fingers of effort. These windows were able to shut out the loud hum of Interstate 5, which is a stone’s throw away from Quantum’s showroom.

Quantum was founded in 1984 by several homebuilders, who were dissatisfied with the lack of high-quality all-wood windows for new home and renovation projects. So they started making the windows themselves, and soon began selling their custom windows and doors throughout the region. Today, on any given weekday, you’ll find about 65 employees working throughout Quantum’s sprawling production facility in Everett, about 30 miles north of Seattle.

Quantum’s co-founder, Paul Vexler, is a trained artist, sculptor, and carpenter. These skills have certainly contributed to the company’s success in handcrafting fine window and door products to fit an existing structure or a brand new one – from the traditional to the ultra contemporary.

While clearly more expensive than machine-made, mass-produced windows, Quantum’s products are not as expensive as you might think. For example, their windows and exterior doors on a new home project might represent 12-15 percent of the overall cost of the home.

Don’t get me wrong. Plastic, aluminum-clad, and machine-produced window products are an important part of today’s housing market. Yet, like anything else, there is something to be said about the inherent imperfection of human artistry, which can add character, style, and uniqueness to a product or project.

Seek to embrace artistry and character in your own company’s work. Celebrate those employees who might find creative ways to improve your products or services.

Most important, do not let the sound of the thundering herd (a.k.a. your competitors) drown out what your customers may be asking for – something a bit more custom-made that could lift their spirits, and your stock price.

The 90% Employment Rate

Posted by on November 8, 2009 at 7:51 pm

90 percentcup of joe

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that the unemployment rate was 10.2 percent in October –- reaching the double-digit mark for the first time since 1983.

Several leading economists are now predicting an 11 percent unemployment rate by the middle of next year, which would represent the highest level since World War II. Even though there have been some glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel in recent months, the unemployment rate continues to be a drag on both the economy and our American psyche.

During these rough economic times, I urge corporate executives to not focus on the 10 percent unemployment rate, but to focus attention on the remaining 90 percent of those still employed. The speed of the recovery and job growth will hinge on one key factor – whether employees are motivated to innovate to drive new products, more compelling services, and improved processes.

Companies, now more than ever, must re-double efforts to mine the talent of their existing employees and turn that talent into newfound gains. With tight budgets, it will require creative approaches from management such as enhanced incentive rewards programs, imaginative leadership and manager training, and other innovative programs to spur greater employee performance.

The costs of such programs are modest compared to the cost to your company and its shareholders of standing still.

You can choose to see the glass 10 percent empty, or you can choose to see it 90 percent full. Think of it as saving room for cream – or better yet, two-percent milk.

Is it Autumn for Your Company?

Posted by on November 1, 2009 at 9:59 pm

jack-o'-lantern

The word “autumn” conjures up a number of different meanings for me: the colorful fall foliage, the flickering light from a jack-o’-lantern, and the smell of hot apple cider.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, autumn not only represents the “season of the year between summer and winter,” but it also refers to “a period of maturity verging on decline.” Now that tends to put a negative spin on an otherwise delightful word in my book, but unfortunately it could be a term to describe some Fortune 500 companies.

Like the verge of decline that some of us may feel with each passing birthday (not me, of course), some seemingly successful companies of a certain age may already be in a gradual descent. And they may not even know it yet. In fact, the lay-offs and cut-backs made over the last year in response to the economic crisis may be masking decline that is already well underway for some companies.

Decline could be the result of not moving quickly enough to respond to a changing marketplace or a more innovative competitor. It could be the result of reductions in research needed to spur promising new products or services. It could be from a decrease in spending on high quality employee and manager training. Or it could be the result of an executive team that has paused too long to enjoy the fruits of yesterday’s harvest. Or, it could be all of the above.

Mature companies which lose focus and drive are destined to lose ground on the competition. Such lost ground over time could indeed prove fatal.

Corporate leaders must constantly challenge themselves and their teams. They must regularly retool and reinvest in their employees–and their company’s future.

In doing so, you’ll likely chase off those pesky autumnal goblins, and increase your chances for a more profitable season.