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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 'service'

The Art of Managing (The White House)

Posted by on February 6, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Can you imagine having 300 people counting on you to keep daily operations running smoothly? Now imagine one of those people is the newly inaugurated President of the United States, and the rest are his closest advisors and staff.

If this isn’t enough to think about, remember the country and world are watching.

Here are 10 strategies I learned during my five years serving as the Operations Manager for the White House, Executive Office of the President.

1.  When the Oval Office or anyone in the West Wing calls, you make things happen, quickly.

2.  Treat all who need your help as if they too work in the the West Wing.

3.  Get to know your customers and act as their liaison. Be the bridge between your customers and the experts who will help you solve their problems.

4.  View each challenge as an opportunity to showcase your skills and learn new ones. With each challenge comes risk for great success and equal failure. Commend others who helped you be successful, and own your failures.

5.  Always have a back-up plan so that any failures are quickly fixed.

6.  It can be prudent to ask questions such as, “Why are we doing it this way?” If the answer is, “I can’t remember,” or, “This is just the way it has always been done,” it could be time to rethink your solution.

7.  Change is constant – be able to adapt and improvise. There may be times when the best plans go south, this is when you must think on your feet, move fast or get run over.

8.  There is a solution for every problem; use your imagination and creativity to find those solutions.

9.  Mentor and train others – this is both challenging and rewarding. Showing someone the ropes and training them will ensure their success, while also ensuring your team’s legacy will continue.

10.  Lastly, one of my favorite sayings I used while working in the White House – “The impossible is possible, it just takes a little longer.”

The photo above was taken by Tina Hager (former White House photographer).

The Design of Everyday Things

Posted by on April 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm

One of the business innovation workshops I conducted in New York City 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.

Using the Old Bean

Posted by on November 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Nothing says November like the feel of wearing a wool sweater from L.L. Bean.

I’ve been a fan of L.L. Bean’s no-frills, long-lasting clothing products for over 30 years. They are comfortable, affordable, and always get the job done.

If I had a dollar for every “Blucher Moc” moccasin shoe that L.L. Bean has sold over the years, I would, well, have a lot of dollars. The shoe is timeless and iconic, and the product description today was the same 30 years ago: “The handsewn upper conforms to your foot for a fit that only gets better with time. Traditional rubber sole has channel grooves to provide traction on wet surfaces.” Current retail price: $69 a pair.

If it ain’t broke, keep selling it. Or something like that.

L.L. Bean owes its success not only to great products, but to great customer service. Year after year, L.L. Bean ranks among America’s top 10 companies for customer service according to the National Retail Federation, based on written surveys of over 9,000 shoppers.

The company was founded in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean in Freeport, Maine — a place that knows something about the importance of keeping warm and dry. Today, L.L. Bean’s flagship store and campus is still in Freeport on the original site where Bean opened his retail business.

Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the 200,000-square-foot flagship store draws nearly three million visitors each year.

Next year marks L.L. Bean’s 100th anniversary. Few companies on the planet survive long enough to celebrate this milestone, much less one that is still at the top of its game. The company’s annual sales now top $1.5 billion.

L.L. Bean wrote the book on succeeding as a mail-order business, and decades later was able to successfully pivot to capitalize on the e-commerce revolution. Like its famed Blucher Moc, L.L. Bean has been able to effectively adapt and conform “for a fit that only gets better with time.”

Yet, L.L. Bean’s current President, Chris McCormick, knows that the company’s success will continue to rely on its commitment to putting the customer first: “It goes back to L.L.’s Golden Rule of treating customers like human beings.”

That’s using the old bean from which we all can learn.

Keep it Simple in 2011

Posted by on January 5, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Over the holidays, a magazine cover caught my eye while I was browsing in a local bookstore. Its title, “Real Simple: 799 New Use for Old Things,” published by Time Inc.

Granted, I’ve seen these types of books or articles in the past, but something about this one at this moment in time struck a particular chord. Of course, the vibrant colors and appealing design of the cover (as shown above) helped get my attention.

Today, every aspect of our lives is controlled or influenced by some sort of complicated device. Many of us now read our books or newspapers on a slate-type screen. We have 900 channels on our cable or satellite boxes, and access to thousands of movies and shows “on demand,” not to mention the hundreds of thousands via the Internet.

Our home security systems rival that of small town banking institutions. And our cars talk to us and react to our own voice commands. A refrigerator can now tell me when my milk is expired, and may soon be reporting me to the anti-bacteria police.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-technology. But I am becoming increasingly pro-simple. Of course, some will argue that many of the technologies I cite above, and scores of others, provide conveniences that we could not have dreamed of 20 or 30 years ago. I guess that may be true, but at what cost to simplicity?

Some days, I long for the glow of a simple incandescent light or the simple latch of a screen door for a bit of added security. My friends love to tease me when I give them a ride in my 1997 base-model Jeep Cherokee, and they look around for the “window button“ to “roll down” the window. I happily point to the hand crank on the door and say, “you actually have to roll it down yourself.”

So on the eve of the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where some of the world’s top companies will be showing off their magical new gadgets that will surely serve to dazzle, I’m thinking about how I can make things more simple in 2011.

Your company may want to put simplicity on its list of things to do in 2011 as well. Are there internal processes that you can reexamine, and actually make simpler – and more cost effective? Are there services that you provide to customers that could be retooled or streamlined to lead to simpler, not more complicated outcomes? Are there products that could be simplified and made more user-friendly?

Or, are there products or services that you currently offer, or maybe shelved a while back, that could actually be put to other good and simple uses?

These are all fair questions that any of us should be asking ourselves this coming year.

I’m betting simple will sell in 2011.

What’s that I hear? It’s the sound of an old, reliable manual cash register going “cha-ching.”

The Impact of Color and Creativity

Posted by on August 21, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Dan Bleier art image

“Color, creativity and sophistication” are the three words used by contemporary artist Dan Bleier to describe his “core values as an artist.”

From his Chelsea studio in Manhattan, Bleier has produced colorful and innovative art, sculptures and furniture made from resins and glass tiles for over 30 years. His projects have been showcased by leading architects and global designers, including Chanel and Dior. His art has been exhibited in top galleries around the country. And a commissioned sculpture by Bleier serves as the centerpiece at the corporate headquarters at General Mills in Minneapolis, MN.

Bleier admits that he was generally not a good math student in his youth, but that he did excel in geometry. “I would often get lost in the colors and shapes of the room I was in or the architecture around me,” according to Bleier.

Dan Bleier

Bleier’s success as an artist and designer is derived from his constantly seeking to find shapes and colors that have a “quality and sense of purpose lacking in much contemporary art today.” Bleier explains, “In the process of drawing I find shapes and patterns that I have never seen or imagined before.”

I met recently with Bleier in his studio. I was indeed struck by the intense colors, the rich patina of his glass tiles, and his inventive use of resins. Bleier’s work clearly evokes a 60s modernism feel – with designs as fresh and edgy today as they would’ve been 45 years ago. And I very much liked the artist himself, who had a great smile and energy that serves to further enhance the impact of his work.

A successful artist or designer takes ingredients and materials that are available to everyone, but is able to combine and present them in a way that creates a unique experience and a lasting impression.

Take a fresh approach to a product or service offering within your own company. Foster and celebrate those employees who find ways to inject color and creativity into their work. Focus less on an employee’s weaknesses (e.g., in math), and more on his or her strengths (e.g., in geometry).

I’m certain you’ll like the results and the impact it will make on your customers and your bottom line.

Find Your Creative Place

Posted by on April 26, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Do you have a creative place? It’s the place 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.

Frankly, your creative place may not be a physical location. It could be a particular state of mind. It could be a certain mood, time of day, or the type of music that you are listening to at the time. It could be something you do such as driving or walking. Or it could be any combination of the above.

Every employee has at least one place that focuses the mind and puts them in a more inspired state. Not a state that will necessarily lead to a nuclear fusion breakthrough, or the next generation of computer chip. But it could be a state that helps them think through a more creative presentation, design a more environmentally-friendly container, improve the profitability of a company service offering, or find a more efficient way to process expense reports.

A company’s challenge is to help find those places for employees where they can be more innovative. Most companies insist that employees produce results in sterile environments under rigid conditions. Ask yourself this question: if you were using your own money to fund a composer to come up with a great score for your next blockbuster movie, would you insist that he or she do it between 9 to 5 on a Tuesday in the small conference room down the hall? I don’t think so.

I realize that organizations may not have the flexibility or the resources to put their employees into their most creative physical spaces. But with a little bit of ingenuity, leadership, and guts to try something different, they could clearly get employees to a better place or frame of mind.

Let New Lantern help your company find its creative place. It could be the beginning of a more beautiful and productive relationship between you and your employees.