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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 April, 2011

Recipe for a Storybook Marriage

Posted by on April 30, 2011 at 9:26 pm

What is it about a royal wedding that draws us all in? At 11am yesterday (British time), an estimated 3 billion people around the planet watched as Prince William and Kate Middleton tied the knot. A cool one million people watched live as they lined the streets of London during the wedding procession.

For the weeks leading up to the royal wedding, media outlets from around the globe spent countless column inches and on-air hours in pre-event coverage on every conceivable aspect of the soon-to-be-wed couple. All of this coverage was clearly fed by an unquenchable thirst of viewers and readers — from every walk of life and background — to soak in as much about this storybook wedding as possible.

Even though I was not part of the millions who staged “watch parties” here in the U.S. in the wee hours of the morning, I did record the entire ceremony and coverage via DVR, which I watched from start to finish last night.

I’m simply amazed at how this one wedding has so captivated our planet. Beyond the natural allure of royalty, maybe our fascination also has something to do with a desire to at least momentarily escape from the recent ravages of wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and nuclear disasters.

In any case, now comes the hard part for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as they are now known. They have to get along as they lead very public lives.

The most difficult part of any marriage is learning how to get along with one another after all the dust settles from the pomp and circumstance of the wedding. Same can be said for the corporate world and the thousands of mergers and acquisitions that occur each and every year.

Companies which come together must find a way to effectively blend much more than payroll, IT, and HR systems if they are to succeed – they must also find a way to successfully blend corporate cultures.

Like William and Kate who come from very different backgrounds (as we know all too well thanks to the media), companies that merge have to arrive at a new corporate culture that suits the newly combined entity.

The tendency is for the dominant company (e.g., the one doing the acquiring) to impose its culture on the company being acquired. This will result in grumpy employees and poor performance if employees of the acquired company are told overnight to abandon their own culture. (Note the grumpy expression in the photo above of three-year old Grace van Cutsem, who was part of yesterday’s wedding ceremony.)

In reality, many elements of the culture of the dominant company can likely continue in the newly combined company. However, executives should work hard to embrace aspects of both cultures that are worthy of renewal, while seeking to chart a new overall culture that will help to bring employees together in a productive way.

This will ensure that your storybook wedding will also lead to a long-lived and profitable storybook marriage.

The Power of Small Wins

Posted by on April 21, 2011 at 10:18 pm

In the latest edition of Harvard Business Review (May 2011), authors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer discuss the importance of helping employees see their own progress in the article, “The Power of Small Wins.”

Researchers have known for years that the single best way for managers to motivate employees is to acknowledge their progress, no matter how small. Yet, managers today consistently give much more attention to other motivating factors, such as: incentives, recognition, and interpersonal support.

In fact, a 1968 Harvard Business Review article on motivating employees highlighted research which found that “people are most satisfied with their jobs (and therefore most motivated) when those jobs give them the opportunity to experience achievement.”

Everyone assumes, as Amabile and Kramer point out, that progress only comes in the form of achieving a long-term goal or breakthrough. No one disputes the enormous satisfaction that accompanies these major accomplishments, but admittedly they are rare and may only come around every few years – if ever.

An employee views his or her work as meaningful if there is a sense that progress is actually being made – no matter if it’s associated with public accolades, a pay increase, or award. Don’t get me wrong, these sorts of incentives also serve to help motivate an employee – and should be deployed appropriately. However, they are no substitute for the feeling of everyday achievement.

So while your company is focusing its attention on the next blockbuster product or service, don’t forget to acknowledge and nurture the small wins. It will lead to happier and more satisfied employees, who in turn will be more innovative and better equipped to land the big wins for your company.

Knowing When You Need a Bigger Boat

Posted by on April 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm

In the 1975 blockbuster, Jaws, a small town police chief (played by the late Roy Scheider) utters one of the most memorable movie lines of all time when he and his two fishing boat companions abruptly come face-to-face with the film’s ginormous shark. “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

With this one short line, Scheider and the characters played by a young Richard Dreyfuss and the late Robert Shaw capture the moment perfectly. They realize that the challenge before them is much larger than the size of their original game plan.

Each year, many companies and their management teams, experience similar types of eye-opening events as they find themselves responding to a sudden man-made or natural disaster. Think BP, Toyota, AIG, GM or the many companies in Japan currently affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami. Less notable companies also experience this sort of wake-up call as they watch a major customer walk away or find themselves scrambling to recover in the wake of a company misstep or scandal.

It is in these moments that company executives and managers are tested. Some companies successfully brave these storms and, as a result, come out stronger and more focused. Others, however, capsize and reach for the aid of a bargain-basement buyer or a bankruptcy raft.

Admittedly, there is no fail-safe way to plan for these unexpected events. But there are ways in which you can appreciably better your chances for survival with the right sort of training and preparation.

Don’t wait until your near-death moment to find out if your company is prepared to look into the jaws of catastrophe and survive. Put in place the right-sized game plans that will effectively respond to both big and small events that could serve to push your boat off course or potentially take you down.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Posted by on April 7, 2011 at 8:18 pm

One of my favorite places to walk in New York City is down the one block stretch of 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in what remains of Manhattan’s “Flower District.” The otherwise non-descript city block is transformed into a cornucopia of color and greenery during the day, when New York’s flower wholesalers put out their finest and freshest flowers along the narrow sidewalks.

In the nine years that I’ve had an apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, I’ve watched the century-old Flower District shrink to what’s now less than a block. In its heyday during the first half of the 20th century, it was literally a “district” taking up several city blocks, where every major New York flower wholesaler sold their horticultural wares to merchants from all over the city. As recently as 1990, there were 50 flower wholesalers in New York’s Flower District, and today there are less than 15, according to New York Magazine.

I walked down 28th Street just this morning, stopping several times to stick my nose into a freshly cut bouquet of spring flowers or to reach out and touch an elephant ear leaf as I walked past. I wondered how many more years the flowers and their shop owners would be there given the continued encroachment of new luxury high rises and chain hotels in the area.

Change is inevitable. Clearly, we’ve all watched many urban, suburban, and rural communities change dramatically over the past several decades. Some for the better, and admittedly, some for the worse.

In most cases we only have ourselves to blame. On one hand, many of us long for the idyllic Norman Rockwell-style images of the past when quaint shops and family-owned businesses lined a neighborhood street. Yet, we also like the convenience of our gourmet coffee shops on every corner and the low costs of the huge discount retail big box stores.

And, we increasingly like the shopping convenience of simply pointing and clicking from the comfort of our homes or apartments. When you purchase online, does it really matter if the item is coming from a shop on the other side of town or from a warehouse on the other side of the country? No, not really, as long as you get the best price and you get it delivered to your front door in two or three days time.

I admit it. I’ve gradually become one of these convenience shoppers. So I guess that I, and hundreds of thousands like me, have contributed in some way to the near extinction of New York’s Flower District, and similar localized shops and business districts across the U.S.

We Americans are a smart and resourceful people. I’d like to think that there is a way for both the convenient and the idyllic to co-exist. At least I can dream, can’t I?

In the meantime I will try to do my part. Excuse me while I go down the street and purchase a few freshly cut flowers from the local vendor.