Archive for the ‘General Commentary’ Category

Over many years, I’ve done a solid amount of work for a significant number of customers. This includes design work for homes ranging from $150,000 to $45MM, hospitality work on projects right under the $1B mark, museums, retailers, health care, schools, and golf courses – to name a few. I have designed hundreds of lighting products and held executive positions in lighting companies. In this time, I have never found myself in a position to ask for anything. Word of mouth led me to clients and projects all over the country, while jobs have come from contacts and connections.

My current venture in creating creative lighted objects presents a unique problem. The path that led me to customer work and employment prior to this, is not as effective in leading to sales of the art objects I create now. As a prior marketer, I recognize this as a particular challenge. As someone who wishes to see the product of my work actually be valued and purchased, I realize it is critical to cut a path forward.

There is a phenomena that all in sales folk recognize that is important to overcome. Cold calling is a very low percentage approach, that consumes a lot of time, to get to a lot of “no” responses. Word of mouth references are far more successful overall. I experienced this personally. I have also become accustomed to the feeling one gets from receiving an unsolicited request for participation.

Unfortunately, with Social Media clouding everyone’s vision, and filling screens with millions of voices on a regular basis, it is actually more difficult than ever to be seen, or perceived as intended. Messages get muddled, and then lost to the constant shifting of feed content. Social Media is both a blessing and a curse in reaching new people and making new contacts.

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I’ve experienced lighting directly (as a VP or Director of Design of Design, Engineering and/or Marketing) through 5 very different organizations, and indirectly (as Consultant, contract designer, etc.) through another 7. My roles has always been associated with advancing revenue goals. Over a span of 31 years working with these manufacturers, the diversity of approach has been striking, in both character and realized results. What follows are some observations based on this background.

My philosophy is that growth in the lighting market demands persistent effort on 5 specific fronts. Market intelligence, NPD, marketing presentation, sales channel development, and operational excellence are the common critical areas. The interrelationships of these are perhaps as important as the elements themselves.

  • Market intelligence demands a clear vision of existing position, market trajectory and insight into end user needs, pain points, and future potential demand.
  • Market intelligence is key to NPD focus and success, as well as product line maintenance.
  • Well developed NPD requires great marketing presentation to stand out in a busy marketplace.
  • Without proper sales channel development (internal members and channel partners), the message and NPD deployed will fall short.
  • If the company falls on its face operationally, every other effort suffers.
Backstory Approaches

Every organization I have played a role in has had one common underlying goal – to grow revenues and advance income. Pretty typical. To this end, there were similarities between them:

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I live in awe of many accomplished individuals. I’m constantly amazed at what exceptional people have done, from building empires or find solutions to scientific problems – to artists who create objects or imagery that imparts a sense of wonder. From my personal perspective, I have done nothing to compare. Yet, I don’t allow this to inhibit by own pursuits. To the contrary, I use this to inspire, to drive me to continue to try new things, to continue to perfect what I already do, and to remain committed to be who and what I am.

The common theme of those I admire, is that they do what they do within context of their interests, not for fame and/or fortune. They are not seekers of recognition; recognition is a by-product of their success. Conversely, I have a real distaste for the likes of Kardashians – who will do anything for fame while contributing nothing. The artists, scientists, developers, a couple of financial gurus, and more than a few dozen business leaders I draw inspiration from, are those who have accomplished great things as a product of what they do or how they do it.

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The lighting universe has always been a blend of science, art, and practical realities. Since the introduction of LED technology, there has been an explosion of new players coming at lighting from a primarily academic or purely scientific viewpoint. This has created a landslide of potentials and compelling promises of new technologies. It has also created interest in visual sciences in lighting application, including non-visual responses to light, color performance, circadian effect, and now with COVID upon us, the use of light as a sterilization source. Then, there is the whole SMART initiatives, BIM, and the IoT push, on top of the ongoing battle for efficacy and energy efficiency. Layer onto this the discussion of power distribution that includes low voltage DC grids and Power Over Ethernet, not to mention integration of solar and battery powered sub grid integration. Further, are the discussions regarding controls technologies, from occupancy sensing and daylight response to reactive controls that change the character of light in a space based on occupant activities, viewer eye movement, coupled to time of day, daylight availability, and scene presets. We also now have tunable optics to accompany tunable CCT. Just over the horizon are steerable light patterns and progress of OLED technology.

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Change is a truly difficult process to navigate. To make change happen requires a lot of effort and some level of suffering. Yet, not changing leads to greater pain. As Pip Coburn has pointed out in his book “The Change Function” – until there is some level of pain or crisis, change will not occur. The old stratus quo will continue until it has experienced something that causes it to realize that continuing is no longer an option. In the diagram below, it is called a “Foreign Element”, in Coburn’s book, it is the point at which the assumptions of an organization, actual market conditions, or reality, eventually catch up to it. Coburn points out that organizations that do not embrace real change in time frequently fail.

As illustrated, the path forward starts with resistance. When every excuse or fear, every justification and every irrational idea has been proven ineffective. The next phase will be chaos, as all of the building blocks of resistance collapse. That leads to tripping over one’s own feet, and wasting energy until a transformational idea emerges, and the battle to build the new Status Quo is embraced.

Image Credit: https://10minutehr.com/2013/11/11/chaos-in-the-organisational-change-process-dont-try-to-avoid-it-manage-it/

I have experienced this on every level with several organizations.

In the 1980’s I reached a point in my own company as a lighting designer, where what I was doing was not accomplishing what I wanted, it had become a routine drag, so I changed direction. I became part of a lighting product making organization that was in the midst of transformation that I could contribute to. The result was remarkable. We introduced ADA compliant products ahead of the market, and changed the company from custom house to standard product/custom mix, and realized truly exciting sales growth. Unfortunately, being young and stupid, I did not recognize that I was part of something special. So….

….Filled with hubris and big dreams, I moved on to another organization that was in the resistance and chaos phases, that was never able to get past the tripping over its feet stage. I thought if it could happen at company A, why not B? I was wrong. It refused to embrace transformation, as it was not yet feeling the pain of its situation to a level that would cause it to truly embrace change. It languished for many years, and I was helpless to it.

In an effort to avoid that ongoing pain, I packed up and moved once more, this time to an organization that had made the transformation years before, that had a new status quo that was stable and solid. This was easily the best place I have ever been part of. However, a foreign element emerged – a corporate acquisition that threw the entire organization down the slippery slope of resistance into chaos, that it has never recovered from.

My (idiotic) response was to return to the prior painful organization, in hopes that perhaps 5 years might have seen some realization. It hadn’t. And to make matters more painful, the first organization (Company A) had successfully found its path to a new Status Quo, and was fluoreshing – then managed to survive the crisis of acquisition better than most.

When solid-state lighting technology emerged, I saw it as an opportunity to jump past the resistance and chaos phases, by starting a new company that was part of the lighting industry’s transformation from bulbs to solid-state emitters, connecting tech to lighting manufacturers, and lighting to tech providers. It worked and I had several years of success.

The foreign element that caused my status quo to suffer pain, was the intrusion of every electronic supplier and LED manufacturer jumping in to offer what I was charging hourly fees for – free to manufacturers – on top of a growing number of competing consulting entities. So, I moved into light cure product development, where federal subcontract work was pretty solid… until a foreign element in the form of a change in Federal administration in 2016 shut down every program we were working on. Then, a resin performance issue emerged that closed off an entire market segment, erasing 7 years of development progress. So, in 2019, after struggling and tripping, and resisting, I took another position similar to one I held before, for an organization I was familiar with as a customer.

Not a great move. I forgot that: Change does not come from doing what you have already done. Nor does it come from taking a safe and familiar path.

There is a missing component to the change graphic – a phase of delusion. It happens somewhere in the resistance to stumbling phases, where you find yourself believing you are making change happen, or or part of a transformation, when it fact, you are not. In this case, I jumped into a familiar universe of resistance and chaos, with visions of being part of a rescuing team that would see the organization build a fresh status quo. It turned out I was just delusional. The organization, while feeling chaotic to me, in need of transformation, and in need of integrating functions, was perfectly happy being what it was. My attempts to energize change were not appreciated, which just led to resistance and more chaos. My bad. It showed me that change comes only from a large scale recognition of need, not some delusional do-gooder trying to save the company from itself. I won’t go down that road again.

In that time, I came to my own personal realization and transformational idea.

Rather than commit countless hours in service of another’s goals, why was I not putting that effort into my real interests and passions. The real transforming idea was to reset how I had gone about business, and what I was doing. My partner (wife of 42 years) and I have talked about my doing art for a living since we met. I resisted this idea for 42 years. No more excuses – time to embrace the chaos and stop resisting.

Now I am in the integrating phase, where pieces born of transformational idea are coming together. Where my resistance for years were founded on assumptions about how I might fail, I now know more about what I do not know, and am beginning to see pathways through this. From making ideas into finished works, to presentations and marketing direction, I am pulling together the integrative components necessary to see it through. This is not part time, weekends and evenings work. This requires far more effort, more time, and more thought than I imagined, and is much harder work than anything I have done before. There are also personal demons to be destroyed, and fears to overcome, on top of the practical issues in hand.

This last several months have solidified the epiphany that true change is the hardest work you can take on, is painful in its own right, and fraught with many obstacles. However, the question ultimately comes down to where you want to endure pain: A.) From a harried status quo existence that you feel deep down has a poor outcome, leading to crisis and greater pain? Or, B.) The commitment to the greater effort of change to something better and more rewarding?

I’m going with option B – until something forces me to change again – in which case it is still B. I am done with option A.

As I transition from design to artistic pursuits, there are several areas of difference that have come to me. Rather than blather on with words, I sketched a few cartoons that express the observations, in a series I am labeling “Designer vs. Artist”. I’ll add more over time.

Allow me to introduce myself in a way that a resume and LinkedIn profile is unable to. I offer the following brief illustrated run down of my career in 10 Acts. Sort of a Play of evolving interests that leads me to offering you a new resource. I hope you have a moment to enjoy this adventure as much as I have. Who knows, perhaps we might one day find ourselves on a shared path.

To start, I am an artist at heart, and have been for a very long time. My first punishment in grammar school was for using my imagination to color a birds in a manner the nuns did not appreciate. This, combined with other similar incidents of expressed independence, led to my being removed from Catholic school to be placed in a conventional grammar school where my “unique” approach would not present disrupt the order of the Rigid Penguin Queens.

I come from a background of a mother who was exceptionally talented in art, and a father who was an engineer and math professor, and a multi-generational family of entrepreneurs. My father showed me the way of being a professional adult, my mother the path to artistic expression. While this duality has afforded me insight into two worlds that rarely share the same space, it has suited me particularly well in lighting – which is why I spent so many years in the industry.

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Every designer has instances where they want to see a special idea or concept realized to fill a small, but essential need or want, but cannot find a path to see it realized. I know this, as I was a designer that started making things for my own projects to fill this need – which led to the formation of Lumenique.

Custom Frame Mount LED Picture Light

The need for something special may be as simple as a small iconic accent applied to a wall or door, a corporate image piece, a center piece at a corporate entry desk or conference table, a side table or dining table light that functions as accent source of illumination while making an artistic design statement. These are the inspired details that add nuance and depth, that makes a design pop – but are too frequently set aside for want of a source to make them real.

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Art is about combining materials and technology in a way that creates objects that reflect a vision or an idea. In some instances, artists find it necessary to innovate their own technology, or to apply one in a way unintended by the originator in order to achieve the end result they desire. Art is about experimentation and tinkering.

In my previous lives, I have done this many times – from using lithography films loaded into a 35mm camera for extremely long exposures for motion capture, to soldering house wiring together with a motorcycle fog lamp to make a sculpture.

This image (1978) was taken using 25ASA high contrast lithograph film cut and modified to work in a 35mm camera to facilitate extreme exposure times in full sunlight conditions.
This small light (1987) was made from copper house wire, plumbing solder, and a PAR36 motorcycle fog lamp.

Artistic inspiration is generally not bound by the physical reality it springs from. In many cases, it is impossible to create what the imagination or an idea brings forth. Yet, an artist that has become too involved in the workings and machinations of creation, often find themselves lost and frustrated. For these reasons, there is always a level of compromise. Available resources, time, and skill set combine to shape the universe within which an artist creates. Some of these limitations are by choice – as is the case for those who choose only to paint, or sculpt in clay – others are just the limitations of the real world.

Light Source Selection

I have been in lighting for 40 years, from virtually every angle – including design of lighting in spaces, design of products for manufacture, use of light to cure resins or disinfect water, and in artwork. I see light in things, in spaces, and in the world – it’s now just a part of what I see.

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After discussing the topic of recruitment and HR manager behaviors with several contemporaries, I found a few interesting common themes.

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