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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 June, 2011

Dancing With the Inventor Stars

Posted by on June 30, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Inventor and entrepreneur, George C. Ballas, Sr. of Houston, TX, died this past week at the age of 85. You may not know his name, but you know his most popular invention – the Weed Eater.

His weed trimming device helped revolutionize lawn care in the 1970s. Ballas first introduced the product in the early 1970s, and by 1976, “he was selling $40 million worth of them annually,” according to the Associated Press. In 1977, he sold the company to the Emerson Electric Company for an undisclosed amount.

Eager to find a way to more quickly trim his three-acre yard, Ballas got the idea for the Weed Eater while sitting in an automatic car wash as he watched the large rotary bristles clean his car. His first version used wire attached to a popcorn can, which was then rigged to a rotary edger. He then worked with an engineer to substitute monofilament line as the lightweight and inexpensive cutting material. Ballas held several patents on the machine.

George Ballas also invented an adjustable table and marketed an early portable phone, but inventing was not his day job. Ballas was a professional dancer who owned and ran several Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire dance studios in the 1960s. He served as President of Fred Astaire Studios from 1960 to 1964. After getting out the service, he married a dancer instructor, Maria Louis Marulanda, who taught Ballas the tango. The couple later performed together.

His son, Corky Ballas, also became a professional dancer, as well as his grandson, Mark Ballas, who has appeared on seven seasons of “Dancing With the Stars.”
Mark Ballas partnered with Bristol Palin in Season 11.

You never know where creativity and ingenuity may come from or where it may take you. How many great ideas, like the Weed Eater, never made it to the production table because of lack of confidence, encouragement, or risk-taking?

The same holds true for creativity and innovation within a company. Make sure your corporate culture embraces the George Ballases within your ranks, even when their ideas may not fit neatly in their day jobs.

It could very well lead to a new patent for your company, an improved service, or a new dance move that’s bound to impress the judges (a.k.a. shareholders).

FONA and Flora

Posted by on June 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm

This past Thursday I attended the annual “Cookout Under the Stars” at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. The dinner is hosted each year by the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA), and the proceeds from the event help support inner-city youth education and horticultural programs, internships, and plant and tree research.

The U.S. National Arboretum was established in 1927 by Congress. The Arboretum is administered by the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its mission is: “To serve the public need for scientific research, education, and gardens that conserve and showcase plants to enhance the environment.”

The Arboretum comprises 446 acres and is located in Northeast Washington, D.C. about two miles from the U.S. Capitol. Over 500,000 people visit the Arboretum each year. It is home to thousands of azaleas, boxwoods, daffodils, daylilies, dogwoods, hollies, magnolias, and maples. The National Bonsai and Pinjing Garden houses one of the largest bonsai collections in North America. Other gardens feature aquatic plants, ferns, flowering trees, conifers, and herbs.

One of the biggest highlights of the National Arboretum is its National Capitol Columns. Twenty-two huge Corinthian columns sit atop a hill at the Arboretum providing one of Washington’s most unique landmarks. The Arboretum has been home to the columns for only a decade, but date back to 1828 where they were first used at the East Portico of the Capitol. In 1958, the columns were replaced by an addition to the east side of the Capitol, and later were brought to the Arboretum thanks to benefactor Ethel Garrett.

The National Capitol Columns are particularly dramatic at night. Last week’s FONA dinner was set up under a large white tent down the hill from the columns. My husband and I joined other dinner guests after dinner with a walk up to the columns, which also featured a lovely Persian-style narrow water feature or rill.

The National Arboretum is an island of serenity amidst the chaos of Washington, D.C. and the nerve-rattling life that surrounds us today. If you’re ever in the area, I would strongly recommend a visit to the Arboretum to soothe the senses.

Better yet, join the Friends of the National Arboretum and make a donation today to ensure that these precious 446 acres will be around for the next generation of planet dwellers, who will need the benefit of a little nerve-calming and a big dose of flora.

The Heart of Innovation

Posted by on June 12, 2011 at 6:22 pm

According to Investor’s Business Daily, biomedical company Edwards Lifesciences puts innovation at the heart of its corporate strategy. And Edwards should know something about the heart given it is a leading innovator in heart valve development.

Key to its success, Irvine, CA-based Edwards Lifesciences has continued to pump resources into research and development in recent years, while “many companies have cut back on R&D due to economic pressures.”

Edwards has gained market share against competitors like Medco Health, Boston Scientific, and St. Jude Medical because of its focus on quality and innovation in the heart valve and vascular market, according to medical technology research analyst, Ben Andrew.

Mike Mussallem, Edwards’ CEO, also notes that the key to innovation is the willingness to make mistakes. “What’s important is making mistakes, learning from them and making adjustments.” The Edwards’ maxim: “Don’t Blame, Learn.”

Other company managers and executives could learn from this maxim. Employees many times are too timid to try something new for fear of failing, and then being ridiculed and penalized. This type of risk averse/don’t fail corporate culture leads more often to mediocrity, not to innovative products and services.

Take a page from Edwards Lifesciences, and put learning from your mistakes at the heart of your innovation program. You may not save lives in the process, but you could save your company and put it on a much healthier course toward success.

What Might Have Been

Posted by on June 5, 2011 at 9:31 am

Just after midnight on this day in 1968, Robert Francis Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Twenty-six hours later, the Presidential candidate died from his gunshot wounds.

At the time of his death, Kennedy was considered the Democratic front runner for President. He had just given a victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel having won the California Democratic Primary that evening, defeating U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy. After his speech, Kennedy left the ballroom and took a shortcut through the hotel’s kitchen, where Sirhan was waiting with his small caliber revolver.

Just two months before, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, TN. Meanwhile, the nation was in turmoil over the Vietnam War as evidenced by the violent protests on numerous college campuses throughout the country. Many Americans found hope in Bobby Kennedy and his message, and were looking to him to find a way to heal the wounds from one of the most troubled times in this country’s history.

Yet, this hope was all swept away with an assassin’s bullet that cut short the life of the brother to President John F. Kennedy, whose own life had been stopped by an assassin in Dallas less than five years earlier.

Richard Nixon went on to win the 1968 Presidential election, defeating Hubert Humphrey, who ultimately won the Democratic primary that year.

We will never know what might have been had Robert F. Kennedy taken a different path that night out of the Ambassador Hotel.

As a college student, my aunt campaigned for Kennedy as a volunteer in the spring of 1968. Her stories inspired me to leave Iran as a high school student ten years later and study abroad in the United States. If not for Robert Kennedy’s death, I’m not sure that my aunt’s stories would’ve made quite the lasting impression on me that led me to this country.

What might have been? I will never know and neither will America.