New Lantern

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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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Archive for Tag 'breakthrough'

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).

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.

Your Employee’s Next Best Idea

Posted by on December 3, 2010 at 9:17 pm

In Businessweek’s November 24, 2010 story, “What’s in Amazon’s Box? Instant Gratification,” BW reporter, Brad Stone, writes that “Amazon Prime may be the most ingenious and effective customer loyalty program in all of e-commerce, if not retail in general.”

For an annual fee of $79, customers can get free two-day guaranteed delivery on any product it sells. Customers who sign up for the Prime program tend to increase their purchases on Amazon. One customer cited by Stone increased her Amazon buying from 82 items in 2009 to 150 items in 2010 as a result of the Prime program. Even if she finds an item on a competitor’s web site, she’ll come back to Amazon to purchase it so she gets the free delivery.

Analysts point to the Prime program as one of the main factors for Amazon’s 30 percent increase in sales during the recession, while other retailers suffered. That’s why competitors like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Target have recently followed suit with their own free shipping promotions.

So you’re probably thinking that it was some high-priced management or marketing consulting firm, which helped Amazon come up with its best-in-class loyalty program. Au contraire.

In fact, it was Amazon software engineer, Charlie Ward, who first cooked up the free shipping idea via an internal web-based corporate suggestion box. Credit then goes to CEO Jeffrey Bezos and Amazon board member, Bing Gordon, for taking the idea and running with it.

In numerous blog posts over the last two years, we have made the point here at New Lantern that a company’s own employees are its single best resource. Your employees possess the talent and creativity that could in fact lead to your organization’s next blockbuster product or service.

I bet there are dozens of Charlie Wards who sit in your company at this very moment. And most likely, they are getting paid for doing a specific task, like writing software code, but are given no incentive for thinking up creative approaches that fall either inside or outside their bailiwicks.

This is an opportunity lost indeed. You owe it to your shareholders to leverage every bit of talent and creativity that exists within your company. Promote creativity and innovation across every part of the company, and at every level.

Incentivize your employees to not only think outside the box, but to forget there is a box in the first place. And seek to identify and nurture these talents via innovative training and other cost-effective, cutting-edge methods.

In doing so, I predict you’ll soon create a shareholder loyalty program that will be second to none.

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.”

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.

Does Your Company Need More Cowbell?

Posted by on February 1, 2010 at 9:40 pm

One of my favorite all-time sketches from Saturday Night Live is “More Cowbell” with guest host Christopher Walken, which aired on April 8, 2000.

In the sketch, Walken plays fictional music producer Bruce Dickinson. The scene is set in a recording studio, and Walken tells the 1970s Blue Öyster Cult band, played by Will Farrell and other male members of the SNL cast, to start at the top on the song, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” Farrell is on cowbell, and as soon as the song starts, he is whamming away at the cowbell with a drumstick.

About 30 seconds into the song, Walken bursts into the studio from the control room shouting, “wait, wait!” He then proceeds to tell the band to try it again from the top, and says, “I could’ve used a little more cowbell.”

The band starts again with Farrell beating the cowbell even louder this time, while dramatically moving around the room as his tight sweater rides up his abdomen exposing his white, fat, hairy belly. Once again, Walken rushes back into the room and cuts the band off mid-song, telling Farrell, “I gotta have more cowbell.” And Farrell complies.

I’m laughing just thinking about the scene as a write this blog.

I must admit that I think about the “cowbell” sketch from time to time and Walken’s obsessive directive to the band. It usually occurs when I’m trying to meet a pressing deadline, get a corporate client to work harder to get more from their employees, coach an executive to take it to the next level, or simply try to finish the last grueling five minutes in my spin class. I hear the clang, clang, clang and Walken’s voice shouting in my head, “I gotta have more cowbell!”

“More cowbell” is my way of saying to dig deeper, work harder, and give it 100 percent – even when you think you’re already doing so. Great companies did not get great by giving it 90 percent. Great executives did not get to where they are by giving it their B game, and great innovators did not come up with leading edge breakthroughs by playing it safe.

The recent economic meltdown has forced many companies to reassess, regroup, and retool. The road back to sustained growth will be long. Yet, those companies which are obsessive about giving it 100 percent, and successful in encouraging their employees to do the same, will be best equipped to make this journey and ultimately reap the benefits.

So for all you Blue Öyster Cult fans, and Walken and Farrell fans, treat your company and your shareholders to some more cowbell this coming year.