New Lantern

About the blog

Light from the
New Lantern blog

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.

Fast Company cover

RSS Buttons

Follow New Lantern on Twitter



Monthly Archive for March, 2010

Perspective and Innovation

Posted by on March 29, 2010 at 8:26 pm

I’ve been fascinated by the reports from last week about the British man who spent $750 on a homemade high-altitude balloon and basic camera that captured spectacular photos from space, which NASA spends hundreds of millions of dollars to capture.

Robert Harrison, a 38-year-old father of three and space enthusiast, rigged a $100 Canon pocket digital camera and GPS device inside a polystyrene box tethered to a helium balloon. It was all held together by duct tape. He then sent the contraption up 22 miles above the earth. During its ascent, the camera was set to take 8 still photos and a short video every five minutes.

Once the balloon reached an altitude of 22 miles, it popped (as he had predicted), and a parachute gently brought the two-pound box back to the ground. Harrison then used a GPS locator to track the box, which he found 50 miles from his home in West Yorkshire, England. He then posted his unbelievable photos on, which caused quite a stir in the space and engineering circles.

According to reports, Harrison has launched a total of 12 high-altitude balloons since October 2008 when he started the hobby.

Harrison said that NASA called him to ask “how he did it so cheaply?” He told them: “You just need a little technical know-how. I know nothing about electronics and what I do know, I learned from the Internet.”

Many companies and organizations, like NASA, spend millions each year to accomplish tasks using the same old methods. Why? Because “it’s always been done this way,” and once you set up a system and culture around a certain process, it’s hard to see doing it another way.

What’s needed is a different perspective that helps compel a management team to look at an objective in a new way. This can sometimes come in the form of an outside force, such as a merger or down-sizing. Or, it can come from a new executive, manager or team member brought in from the outside. Or, it can be grown internally through innovative training and a corporate culture that challenges the status quo and incents employees to do so.

Robert Harrison was not frozen in place from years of process inertia. He used fresh thinking and widely available, inexpensive technologies to achieve results that had eluded even the most experienced professionals.

Artists, photographers, and cinematographers know that perspective is critical to their work. Simply put, it can mean the difference between success and failure.

Corporate executives and managers should likewise embrace the importance of perspective in their work, and its impact on more innovative products, services and processes. I’ll bet you $750 it would take your company or organization to new and exciting heights.

A Reliable Early Indicator

Posted by on March 22, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Nothing says “spring” to me like the fresh blooms of the Forsythia shrub. Its small, yellow starbursts of flowers are among the first signs of color in mid-March in many parts of the United States. And given the recent cold, harsh winter, this year’s Forsythia blooms are a feast for the eyes indeed.

Forsythia is both the genus and the common name for this spring-flowering shrub. There are 11 species of Forsythia, which are also native to Asia and Europe. It is named after the Scottish botanist, William Forsyth.

For the remaining 50 weeks of the year, Forsythia shrubs are frankly unremarkable and tend to blend into the neighborhoods and parks where they commonly are found. Yet, come March, when the temperature and conditions are just right, this genus of shrub magically transforms itself overnight.

Plants like the Forsythia serve an important purpose. They indicate that a change for the better is at hand. They lift the mood and spirit. And they remind us that every plant or person has a valuable role to play if put in the right conditions, nurtured appropriately, and situated for the greatest benefit.

Look for the exceptional in what may otherwise appear unexceptional. Actively cultivate Forsythias and a wide variety of other flora within your organization. By doing so, you can turn a run-of-the-mill roadside nursery into a sustainable and highly productive garden.

A New Look at Motivating Employees

Posted by on March 15, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Last week, Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein profiled career analyst and author Daniel Pink and his new book: “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”

In the book, Pink makes the case that money can only motivate employees up to a point. In fact, he cites studies and real-life examples that support the notion that incentive bonuses actually result in less creative and innovative thinking.

Granted, Pink notes that good performance starts with employees who feel like they are fairly compensated. Beyond that, he contends that employees will in fact use higher levels of initiative, problem-solving, and creativity in response to traditional, non-monetary competitive forces.

In a speech at a TED conference at Oxford, England last summer, Pink previewed some of his thinking that went into “Drive.” He cited a 2005 study by MIT conducted for the Federal Reserve that found that “as long as the task involved mechanical skill, bonuses worked as would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance.” However, “once the task called for an even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.”

Pink also wrote “A Whole New Mind” in 2006, which makes the case for more right-brain thinking (e.g., inventiveness and creativity), noting “the workplace terrain is changing yet again, and power will inevitably shift to people who possess strong right-brain qualities.” This is an interesting proposition (and a correct one in my opinion) considering it is coming from a trained left-brain-thinking lawyer.

Given today’s level of global competition and the fragile economy, companies would be well-advised to look differently at how they try to motivate employees. Based on my own experience in managing executive compensation programs at large multinational companies, companies are far too quick to assume that traditional carrots like higher bonuses and larger stock grants will result in higher levels of performance.

These compensation tools are important for retaining your most promising employees. Yet, when used alone, they may in fact be stunting – not inducing – higher levels of innovation, risk-taking, and problem-solving.

Companies that seek to promote a motivating corporate culture, a competitive work environment, and ample levels of recognition for excellence will ultimately be in the best position to elicit the innovation “drive” needed from employees to beat the competition.

The Best Director

Posted by on March 8, 2010 at 9:59 pm

As a child growing up in the 1960s and early 70s in Tehran, I spent most of my summers vacationing at the Caspian Sea with my family and other relatives.

During the day, my sister, cousins and I would spend hours riding our bikes up and down the seashore and nearby neighborhood streets, soaking up the sun and salt-filled air. In the evenings, we would go to bed early exhausted from the day’s activities, as my parents, aunts and uncles played cards and told stories late into the night. And the kids would get up early the next morning and start it all again.

On many days, we would occupy our time by putting on plays and skits, where our parents served as the audience. I always insisted on being the director, so I could tell the other six or seven kids what to do and say.

It was truly an idyllic time, which now seems very far away on so many levels.

I often think back on my summers at the Caspian Sea, as I did last night as I watched the 82nd Annual Academy Awards show, when they named Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director for her work on “The Hurt Locker,” which also won Best Picture.

Notably, Bigelow is the first woman to win the Oscar’s coveted Best Director award. More notable is that she won it for directing a war movie. Most notable, she won up against a highly competitive field of other gifted directors, one of which included her former husband, James Cameron.

Cameron, who was nominated for his directing work for “Avatar,” is no stranger to this Oscar category, having received the Best Director award for “Titanic” in 1997. But last night was Bigelow’s night, and she deserved every moment of the recognition. In all, “Hurt Locker” took home six Oscars for its gripping depiction of life on the fronts lines of the Iraq War for a U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team.

A director is responsible for taking the written word of a screenplay and bringing it to life on film, from every camera angle, in how an actor portrays a given role, and how a scene ultimately helps tell the story.

You cannot overstate the importance of the director’s role to a film or a play. More broadly, the same can be said for directing an organization or business. Good directing comes from years of hard work, knowing the business, risk-taking, effective training, learning from mistakes, and learning from other successful directors or leaders.

The best director is one who is able to pull the talent and an award-worthy performance from each team member. Such an idyllic moment will likely lead to your company’s own next blockbuster and plenty of precious memories down the road.

The Design of Everyday Things

Posted by on March 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Several months ago, I conducted a business innovation workshop in New York City that featured cognitive scientist Donald Norman as a guest speaker. Norman is a leading expert in “user-centered design” and author of The Design of Everyday Things. The workshop was attended by 40 mid- and top-level managers from numerous divisions of a Fortune 200 company.

The goal of this off-site innovation meeting was to provoke some of the company’s most promising professionals to look at things a little differently – in fact, we wanted them to look at everything differently.

Every day of our lives, we are bombarded by tens of thousands of visual and operational stimuli. The door handle we use to open the closet, the street sign we see to make the correct turn, the faucet we use to turn on the water in the restroom, the ink pen we use to sign a letter — and on and on.

Given the sheer volume of this stimuli, it’s no wonder that we give little thought to 99% of what we see, touch, and feel every day. But maybe your brain is paying more attention than you think.

Whether on an individual stimulus basis or in a cumulative way, your brain responds more positively to objects that are pleasing to the eye – even everyday objects. Whether it’s a company logo, a product, an online service, or a routine internal process or form, a user’s reaction to all of these things is real, no matter how subtle.

Your product division may want a customer or potential customer to enjoy the use and visual attributes of a given product. Your sales department may want a customer to have a positive user experience with an online tool or service. And your human resource department may want employees to respond favorably to this year’s new health benefit based on smart and attractive design elements.

Innovation is not only reserved for the once-a-year or once-in-a-lifetime breakthroughs. Innovation can and should occur every day across every part of your company – from the most obvious anchor product of the company to the most subtle and routine business process.

It’s the cumulative effect of these innovations and the associated attention to detail and design that will separate good companies from the best companies.

Companies should make it a point to encourage employees to seek out every opportunity to improve a product, service, or process – and should seek to arm them with the tools, training and incentives to do so.

In the end, making everyday things and how they are designed and used a priority within your company may very well lead to extraordinary things.