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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 January, 2012

Thumbs Up for Downton

Posted by on January 31, 2012 at 11:56 pm

I’m a Downton Abbey fan. I don’t watch much television, but when I do, the British hit series Downton Abbey on PBS is top of the list.

I can’t say exactly why I like the show. Maybe it’s the excellent ensemble of actors. Maybe it’s the well-written scripts contrasting the upstairs British aristocracy of the early 1900s and their downstairs help staff. Maybe it’s all the turn-of-the-century British period stuff, showcasing the fine furnishings of the opulent estate home.

It’s probably elements of all these things, but I am always a sucker for well-done period pieces. Downton is written by Julian Fellowes and produced by the British media company, Carnival Films.

I’m not alone in my infatuation of Downton Abbey. Only in its second season in the U.S., it has already amassed a long list of Golden Globe and Emmy awards and nominations. And just yesterday, Carnival Films announced that Oscar-winning actress Shirley MacLaine will join the Downton cast as the mother of Lady Grantham, who is ably played by Elizabeth McGovern.

Seventy-seven-year-old MacLaine will be matching wits and barbs with award-winning British actress, Maggie Smith, also 77, who plays the Dowager Countess and is simply terrific in the role.

The third season will air this fall in the U.K. and next year in the U.S., so we’ll have to wait our turn to see MacLaine and the new storylines, which I’m sure will not disappoint.

The series is set at the fictional Downton Abbey estate in North Yorkshire, England. According to Wikipedia, “Highclere Castle in Hampshire (shown above) was used for exterior shots of Downton Abbey and most of the interior filming. The servants’ living areas were constructed and filmed at Ealing Studios.”

At the heart of Downton Abbey is a great idea, a compelling story, strong creative ability, attention to detail, and fine execution to produce something that is appealing to a broad audience. All the key ingredients needed for a successful business if you ask me.

If you haven’t seen the show, I suggest you try it out. PBS airs it on Sunday nights, and it replays on Thursday nights — at least in my neck of the woods in the Washington, DC area.

New is Good, Old Can Be Better

Posted by on January 23, 2012 at 8:35 pm

“New and Improved.” “Newly Renovated.” “New Leadership Team.” “New, Faster 4G.” “New, Better Tasting Formula.”

In today’s fast-paced frenetic world, the term “new” is losing its luster. Everything is “new.” Every “new” product is higher in Omega fatty acids, easier to use, more feature-rich, or is bigger than the previous model.

The humorous television advertisements that show a customer’s smartphone as obsolete the moment after she purchases it is not far from reality.

Of course “new” is not new in the world of business and marketing. For decades, businesses have been peddling their products and services as “new” in an effort to lure customers. And for decades, market research has supported this notion.

Yet, I may be bucking the trend here, but I’m willing to step out on a limb to say that “old” has never been better positioned to make a comeback.

Sure, when it comes to products, customers will likely want to shell out the most dinero for the newest versions. However, when it comes to business, there may be opportunities to embrace some of the “old” ways of doing things that could lead to greater sales, higher margins, and happier shareholders.

Take talent for example. Routinely, companies bring in new, fresh talent and work them hard over the first few years. This is the classic management consulting firm model. Newbies are cheaper, more apt to work longer hours, malleable, and come with less personal baggage like child care or parental care. What’s not to like?

There’s a time and place for new talent in any company. However, I would argue that the best deal and greatest value these days may be with the older and more mature cohort. Cheaper is not always better. And with personal baggage comes experience and valuable perspective. And malleable sycophants are definitely not the recipe in my book for improving your company’s productivity.

Companies should not simply look at employees as units of labor, but as a valuable resource that should be mined and nurtured. A team made up of at least several more mature team members is likely the team that will not repeat past mistakes.

And most importantly, a team member that is willing to speak up and challenge the status quo in a constructive way – based on years of experience – is better positioned to add value to the bottom line, not take from it.

So look around you and embrace the old. Not every time, but when it is wise to do so. This newfound wisdom may be just the ticket for your company to compete in the new global marketplace.

Creativity Gets Personal

Posted by on January 15, 2012 at 7:19 pm

In today’s New York Times, author Susan Cain has penned an op-ed called “The Rise of the New Groupthink.” In it, she highlights research that strongly suggests that despite all the corporate hype about the importance of groupthink and collaboration, “people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”

In her upcoming book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Cain builds on this assertion by citing numerous cases where introversion is responsible for creativity and innovation. For example, she points to well-known introvert and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who as she puts it, “toiled alone on a beloved invention, the personal computer.”

Cain does not totally dismiss teamwork. She notes its important place in the overall corporate process of exchanging ideas, managing information and building trust. Yet, she’s less sympathetic towards so-called “brainstorming sessions,” which she describes as “one of the worst possible ways to stimulate creativity.”

I agree with Cain on many levels. As I have written here in numerous blog postings over the last three years, creativity should be nurtured in the individual, and that each person’s trigger or button for creativity is different and should be highly valued.

For example, in my blog post, “Find Your Creative Place,” from April 26, 2009, I note the importance of finding that place and state of mind where you feel you are at your most creative and productive. “It may be a bench in your favorite park, a special nook or room in your house or spot in your yard, a quiet desk at a library, a small bistro table in a busy Starbucks, or a spot at work where no one can interrupt you.”

And I called on businesses to provide for a culture that encourages employees to take advantage of their most creative places to do their work, of course, within the boundaries of practicality.

I’ve also written numerous times on this blog about the powers of teleworking, and allowing certain employees, where possible, to work from home or from some other location where they could be more creative and productive.

Like Cain, I agree that a focus on greater private time and individualization is not a call for employee isolation. There still can be plenty of opportunity during the work day or during the week for team members to assemble in face-to-face groups, teleconference and video conference.

In the end, corporations have the power to spur increased creativity within their ranks by focusing attention and programs not just on the extroverts, but also those introverts who may very well be the source of your company’s next best product or service.

Leveraging New Tools

Posted by on January 7, 2012 at 8:20 pm

An upcoming exhibition at The Phillips Collection museum in Washington, DC has caught my eye. It’s called, “Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard.

The exhibit will not only feature the works of seven leading post-impressionist artists from the 1890s to the early 1900s, but it examines the new media format these artists used to produce their notable works of art: the snapshot.

According to the cover article in The Phillips Collection’s Winter 2012 magazine, the arrival of the Kodak camera in 1888 provided artists a new tool by which to study their subjects via the snapshot. Prior to the portable Kodak camera, photography was a painstaking process which was typically inaccessible to the general public. Large format cameras were big, cumbersome and required a heavy tripod and lots of patience to capture a still image on film.

This new Kodak camera allowed artists the opportunity to take numerous photos of subjects with relative ease for later study and consideration. As the article points out, “the camera did not supplant the sketch but rather added a different dimension to a wealth of visual information that could be drawn upon.”

The exhibit opens on February 4 and runs through May 6, and will feature 200 largely never-before-seen photographs alongside the 70 paintings for which these seven artists are best known. The artists include: Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Felix Vallotton, George Hendrik Breitner, Henri Evenepoel, Henri Riviere, and Edouard Vuillard.

Snapshot marks the dawn of an era when artist used their Kodaks to explore new realms that would inform their creative output,” as noted in article’s conclusion.

Today, businesses small and large could learn from these seven artists – even companies like Kodak which itself is ironically and unfortunately on the verge of bankruptcy.

Leverage the latest tools that can help your company improve upon, not replace, what it already does well. What got you to this place is core to your business and its identity. What you use to enhance your company’s and employees’ core talents will continue to make your business successful for years to come.

You know, I think that would make for a nice snapshot.