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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, 2010

Cobbler to the Gods

Posted by on August 24, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Nike CEO, Mark Parker, is featured in Fast Company’s September edition cover story, “The World’s Most Creative CEO.” It chronicles Parker’s internal rise to Nike’s chief executive and his recipe for success by using “elite athletes, artists, and his own shoe designs to drive a $34 billion business.”

Parker is not a household name outside of Nike and the sports industry, compared to co-founder and chairman, Phil Knight. Knight was CEO for almost 40 years until he stepped down in 2004, when he brought in an outsider from S.C. Johnson, William Perez, to replace him. Perez lasted only 18 months before hanging up his cleats, saying that the culture at Nike was too difficult. That’s when Nike turned to Parker, a long-time Nike executive and über footwear designer.

Parker came to Nike in 1979 as a product designer and footwear tester. It wasn’t long before executives realized his talent in creating some of the most memorable and profitable Nike shoe products in the company’s history. His creations have adorned some of the globe’s most celebrated athletes, including John McEnroe, Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and Kobe Bryant – a veritable “cobbler to the gods” as described by Fast Company.

An avid marathoner himself, Mark Parker knows a thing or two about athletes and footwear. Most important, he brings a creative mind to the CEO role, which he continues to nurture every day. According to the article, he “regularly hosts dinners for about 25 artist friends to just talk and kick around ideas.”

It’s no surprise that Parker stays laser-focused on Nike’s design and R&D work. He frequents the company’s secretive “Innovation Kitchen” sessions, an internal think tank of sorts, “where athletic ambition, art, and a bit of mad science are cooked into the stuff that made Nike the dominate player in sports shoes and apparel.”

Parker also spends a lot of time and attention on sustainability and cutting product waste. And, Parker recently outlined some pretty big goals of increasing sales by 40 percent by 2015. He’ll have his work cut out for him, but stretch goals and competing hard are nothing new for a company which aligns itself with world class athletes and sports.

If you want a little insight into what makes this successful corporate executive tick, take a look at his choice for the new company mission statement nine years ago: “To bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete in the world.”

Since becoming CEO, Parker has also developed nine “maxims” that he wants to serve as guiding principles at Nike. His favorite is No. 6, “Be a sponge. Curiosity is life. Assumption is death.” Parker says that was one his grandmother taught him.

Parker’s approach demonstrates that curiosity and a hearty appetite for creativity are a powerful combo for Nike — and for any other company seeking to compete and win.

Art to Die For

Posted by on August 18, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Last year, I flew through Memphis, Tennessee and found myself with some time to kill one hot August afternoon. So I drove about 10 miles to visit the city’s historical Memorial Park Cemetery on Poplar Avenue. No, I was not going there to pay my respects to a deceased relative or friend. Instead, I wanted to pay my respects to one of the most gifted faux bois (false wood) artists of the Western Hemisphere, Dionicio Rodriguez.

Rodriquez was born in Toluca, Mexico in 1891. He is known for perfecting a process in which he carved reinforced concrete to look like wood and rocks. Rodriquez developed his unique skills at a young age working in a Mexican foundry and for an Italian artist, who produced imitation rocks. He later worked with Mexican architects and engineers to reproduce ruins of ancient buildings, including a major project for the presidential residence in Mexico City.

Dionicio Rodriquez came to the U.S. in the 1920s, and proceeded to travel extensively throughout the country working on commission to sculpt concrete into compelling footbridges, benches, and other shapes to simulate wooden tree limbs.

His works spanned 30 years and are on display today in numerous cities across the U.S., including San Antonio, Memphis, Little Rock, Chattanooga, New York, and Ann Arbor. Many pieces are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including his works on the grounds of the Memphis Memorial Park Cemetery.

Rodriquez did not speak English and he never married. He died in 1955 in San Antonio, and left no immediate survivors. What he did leave behind, however, was a rich legacy of beautiful and unique art.

His works have been catalogued in the 2008 book by Patsy Pittman Light, “Capturing Nature, The Cement Sculpture of Dionicio Rodriquez.” According to, “Light spent a decade documenting the trabajo rustico (“rustic work”) of Rodriquez.”

I marvel at the patience and dedication to one’s craft that produces results at the level and scale of this artisan. It frankly inspires me, and should inspire others, who seek to distinguish themselves from their peers and competitors.

Muchas gracias Señor Rodriquez for coming to this country to share your talents in so many concrete ways — for both the living and the departed.

Build Yourself a Great Story

Posted by on August 11, 2010 at 9:58 pm

The innovation-centric website,, recently posted a video of a commencement address given by Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos at Princeton University in May. The posting was part of TED’s “Best of the Web” series. The title of the video, “What Matters More Than Your Talents,” caught my attention so I clicked “play” to listen in.

In his 12-minute speech, Bezos talks about the difference between gifts and choices. He notes that gifts can be easy since they are either given or received. Choices are much harder he contends, because how we choose to use our gifts is what’s important, and the most challenging.

Jeffrey Preston Bezos, born in 1964, graduated from Princeton himself summa cum laude with a BS in computer science and electrical engineering. After spending several years on Wall Street and in banking in the computer science field, he started in 1994, which soon became one of the most successful Internet companies in history.

Bezos points out that we live in an astonishing time. We enjoy the many gifts that come from our inventiveness and innovative spirit, as evidenced in recent and nearly-realized medical and technology breakthroughs. “Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Galileo, Newton, all the curious from the ages, would’ve wanted to be alive most of all right now.”

Talents, like gifts, should not be wasted. They should be nurtured and appreciated, both as an individual and as an enterprise. And how an individual or enterprise chooses to use – or not use – these talents will help determine success or failure.

Bezos ends his speech by predicting the future. He says that someday, when we are 80, and reflecting back on our own lives, we will be judged on the series of choices we would have made.

“We are our choices,” he says. “Build yourself a great story.”

“Where Have the Corporate Heroes Gone?”

Posted by on August 4, 2010 at 6:41 pm

This is the question that the Washington Post posed in an August 1 article on leadership to several noted business school academics from Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, the University of Virginia, the University of Southern California, and the London Business School.

Most scholars took issue with the word “heroes.” Sir Andrew Likierman, Dean of the London Business School, asked and answered: “So where have all the heroes gone? The same way as the heroes before them. Those who have the spotlight of publicity and fame come and go. We should look and learn, while reminding ourselves that uncritical admiration is probably best avoided after the age of 5.“

Corporate leaders should focus on leading, not hero status, period. Those who get swept up in fame and heroism are doomed to disappoint and to fail.

What corporations do need are leaders who promote a culture of leadership across the entire management team – not only in the CEO’s office or among his or her direct reports, but also among those who report to them, and the managers who report to them. A company that places its CEO on a pedestal in times of plenty will undoubtedly find itself swimming upstream when the tough times come along.

Every manager should feel empowered to lead, and should be trained to do so. Managers who merely tell their bosses what they want to hear, at every step along the way, are destined to create a snowball effect of mediocrity that will cripple the company’s objectives over the long-run.

That’s not to say that we should shelve the hero title completely in corporate America. True heroes exist and they can be showcased — but not within the executive staff. Instead, I suggest that corporate managers spotlight those individual contributors within the ranks; who bring creative thinking to the table; who seek to take responsible risks; and whose efforts lead to more innovative products, services, and processes.

These are the today’s real corporate heroes, and they should be treated as such from within.