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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 February, 2010

Going for the Gold

Posted by on February 22, 2010 at 10:50 pm

I don’t know why, but I have found myself more interested in this year’s Winter Olympic Games than in previous years.

Maybe it’s the proximity of Canada to the U.S. and the friendly sports rivalry between the two countries. Maybe it’s the beauty of Vancouver and the surrounding area, which I visited in 2007. Or, maybe it’s the fact that I still have nearly two feet of snow in my yard from the recent blizzard in DC that has put me in the Olympic spirit.

Whatever the reason, I’ve enjoyed the diversion from the bad economy, the political discord in Washington, Tiger Woods, and the late night talk show melodrama.

I admit, I feel a bit nostalgic when I watch the Olympic Games. It harkens back to a time in my youth when I dreamed of being a famous downhill skier. There’s something about watching the world’s best athletes compete their hearts out, not for a paycheck or a corporate sponsorship, but for the sole purpose of winning — and standing on a podium to proudly represent his or her country.

It boggles the mind to think about the thousands of hours and years of practice that many athletes invest to become the best at what they do. And more boggling is that all that work may come down to a mere 60 to 120-second performance.

What drives a person to work that hard for a reward only of recognition?

The Olympics are unique in this regard. A company or organization could never, ever replicate this level of drive and dedication from its employees. Employment is work. It is a compulsory activity whose purpose is to make a living, provide for one’s family, and ideally save towards retirement.

With that said, there’s a lot that a company could learn from the Olympic ideal. Creating a healthy, competitive environment is a good thing. Rewarding those employees who excel and distinguish themselves is a worthy exercise and will drive increased performance across the ranks.

A corporate culture that celebrates achievement, both of individuals and of teams, is one that will lead to long-term success. It also creates an environment where employees are more likely to enjoy their work, and not dread coming to it.

Seek to ignite a fire within your employees. Light a cauldron that can serve to fuel creativity and innovation. I bet you’ll like the results and the golden opportunity it will provide your company to best your competitors.

Teleworking Redux

Posted by on February 15, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Last summer, I wrote a two-part blog, “It’s Time to Embrace Teleworking” (Part 1 and Part 2). Out of New Lantern’s 54 blog postings over the last 14 months, we have not once returned to the same exact topic — until now thanks to recent events.

If your company to date has been cool to lukewarm on the topic of teleworking, you need only to look to the real-life response to the back-to-back snowstorms along much of the East Coast last week as your best proof point to take a new look. Thousands of companies from Virginia to Massachusetts were shut down after communities were hit by two to three feet of snow. Hundreds of thousands of employees were affected, who found themselves captive in their own homes for most of the week.

Yet, much of the work of many of these companies continued thanks to modern day connectivity, fast and inexpensive personal computers, broadband at home, smartphones, Blackberrys, and iPhones. The breadth and scale of this level of productivity from one’s home would not have been possible 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago.

Even the U.S. Government enjoyed the benefits of teleworking last week. For example, according to a spokesperson at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, “the trademark side of the agency reported production at 85 percent of normal levels on Monday and Tuesday, when the government was officially closed,” as reported in the Washington Post on February 11.

Admittedly, teleworking is not for every employee or every position, as I noted in my June 2009 blog post. But I would venture to say that almost every business can find a way to better utilize technologies so that at least some employees can work from home during part of the work week.

Employees are happier when they are not wasting one to two hours a day sitting in traffic during their commutes, or standing on a crowded subway or bus. Employees are happier when they are in comfortable and more inspiring surroundings. They are also happier when they are not chained to their desk five days a week because it makes the boss feel better. And happier employees are more innovative and productive. Period. Full stop.

Your company should take a fresh look at teleworking. Managers should embrace today’s technologies and push aside yesterday’s biases against working from home. If so, I predict brighter skies will soon be in your future.

You can trust me on this one, I wouldn’t snow you.

Reaching the Peak

Posted by on February 8, 2010 at 4:37 pm

It’s not everyone who can say they accomplished what relatively so few others have done, beat the long odds and the obstacles, faced adversity head-on, and finally reached the pinnacle of achievement where you can plant a flag and mark it as your own.

As the photo shows above, this past weekend I did reach a once seemingly unobtainable peak …or so it would seem.

What may appear as a desolate and snowy peak just before sunset, is in fact a photo of my neighbor’s roof taken yesterday in late afternoon after a near-record 24-inch snowfall in the Washington, DC area.

Images and words can sometimes create a powerful illusion. They can lead one to take action – or result in inaction – in light of a perceived set of facts. Such a phenomenon is not limited to an individual, but can also beset an entire company or organization.

Companies, which possibly once enjoyed a leadership position or a genuine high level of performance, many times find themselves operating in a culture of perceived accomplishment. The management may convince itself that yesterday’s achievements are still in play, or it may insist that it is further down the field than reality would allow.

Worse yet, management may believe that the company’s employees are fully motivated, productive, and eager to take the next hill.

Things aren’t always as they appear. A false sense of achievement can erode the foundation of an organization, and can eventually bring it down. An honest and candid assessment is a good start, but should be followed by high-value leadership development, employee training, and a creative incentive program that can help put your company at the top if its game.

Let New Lantern help your company truly reach its peak performance.

Does Your Company Need More Cowbell?

Posted by on February 1, 2010 at 9:40 pm

One of my favorite all-time sketches from Saturday Night Live is “More Cowbell” with guest host Christopher Walken, which aired on April 8, 2000.

In the sketch, Walken plays fictional music producer Bruce Dickinson. The scene is set in a recording studio, and Walken tells the 1970s Blue Öyster Cult band, played by Will Farrell and other male members of the SNL cast, to start at the top on the song, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” Farrell is on cowbell, and as soon as the song starts, he is whamming away at the cowbell with a drumstick.

About 30 seconds into the song, Walken bursts into the studio from the control room shouting, “wait, wait!” He then proceeds to tell the band to try it again from the top, and says, “I could’ve used a little more cowbell.”

The band starts again with Farrell beating the cowbell even louder this time, while dramatically moving around the room as his tight sweater rides up his abdomen exposing his white, fat, hairy belly. Once again, Walken rushes back into the room and cuts the band off mid-song, telling Farrell, “I gotta have more cowbell.” And Farrell complies.

I’m laughing just thinking about the scene as a write this blog.

I must admit that I think about the “cowbell” sketch from time to time and Walken’s obsessive directive to the band. It usually occurs when I’m trying to meet a pressing deadline, get a corporate client to work harder to get more from their employees, coach an executive to take it to the next level, or simply try to finish the last grueling five minutes in my spin class. I hear the clang, clang, clang and Walken’s voice shouting in my head, “I gotta have more cowbell!”

“More cowbell” is my way of saying to dig deeper, work harder, and give it 100 percent – even when you think you’re already doing so. Great companies did not get great by giving it 90 percent. Great executives did not get to where they are by giving it their B game, and great innovators did not come up with leading edge breakthroughs by playing it safe.

The recent economic meltdown has forced many companies to reassess, regroup, and retool. The road back to sustained growth will be long. Yet, those companies which are obsessive about giving it 100 percent, and successful in encouraging their employees to do the same, will be best equipped to make this journey and ultimately reap the benefits.

So for all you Blue Öyster Cult fans, and Walken and Farrell fans, treat your company and your shareholders to some more cowbell this coming year.