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Tracking Growth in Business and Houseplants

There is a leafy houseplant in our office here at Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.  It was adopted by Mark McGowan, one of our coworkers, a couple of years ago. Since then, it has flourished and grown, with one long, viney arm stretching across his cubicle office and now snaking its way to the neighboring space. 

We’ve begun to measure that vine’s progress, like a parent marking their children’s height on the wall.

On Aug. 23, it had grown 28 inches since July 5. In a few months, it will reach my office. I cannot wait.

The funny thing is, none of us really paid much attention to the plant, besides maybe Mark, until he stuck a post-it note on the wall, marking the date. Now, we can visually tell how far that vine has come. We can state for fact: this plant has grown X inches since X date.

I recently visited a metalcasting facility that takes measurement and data analysis seriously. As the president told me, “Anything that is measured improves.”

The company has applied this mantra across its whole business, from workforce development to scheduling, and the results have been positive. This analytical approach helps make business decisions, as well as track a decision’s impact and give the chance for course correction or redirection. Any business seeking improvement can benefit from this attention to measurement.

Sometimes there is fear in measuring, because what if that first data point is not what you want it to be? Anyone who has avoided stepping on a scale might understand. But measuring ultimately can be rewarding, especially as goals are approached, met and then exceeded.

Measuring something, like a part’s scrap rate, delivery record or pick-and-place time, doesn’t just indicate the current data point. It shows what is possible, what more can happen.

As for our pet office plant, I don’t think we’ll be developing any Excel spreadsheets tracking its progress. We don’t have any specific goals for its growth. But we are invested in it just the same. If it starts to brown or stops growing, we’ll notice and discuss what we should do to keep it healthy. I’m rooting for it to make it to my desk.  

Click here to see this story as it appears in the September/October 2017 issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.


Trade Secret Protection

The American Bar Association estimates the market value of S&P 500 companies can include as much as 75% of intangible assets. This is quite an increase over a 1975 estimate indicating less than 20% of these companies’ collective market value consisted of intangible assets. A good portion of these intangible assets is intellectual property which includes patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. As you might be aware, there is now federal jurisdiction for trade secret theft. The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA) was signed into law on May 11, 2016, after unanimously passing in the Senate and ratification in the House by a vote of 410-2. The DTSA became immediately effective for all trade secret misappropriation taking place after the bill’s signing date.

While many of us might not think of trade secrets (such as the formula for Coca-Cola) as being commonplace, the National Science Foundation estimates that corporations actually employ trade secret protection perhaps two times as often when compared to patents. As such, trade secrets certainly constitute a significant amount of value of intangible assets for American corporations. Trade secrets can include a formula, practice, process, design, instrument, pattern, commercial method, or compilation of information.  To fit the federal definition of a trade secret, the information must include information, reasonable measures taken to protect the information, and information which derives independent economic value from not being publicly known as defined under 18 U.S.C. § 1839(3) (A), (B) (1996).

A paper co-authored by create.org and PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that trade secret theft ranges from 1-3% of the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. and other advanced industrial economies. As such, the federal government chose to create a federal cause of action for trade secret misappropriation in the DTSA. This legislation includes a three-year statute of limitations, and it authorizes remedies similar to those found in current state laws. The DTSA also creates a seizure procedure for use in extraordinary circumstances where the offender “would destroy, move, hide, or otherwise make such matter inaccessible to the court, if the applicant were to proceed on notice to such person.”  While the seizure may be carried out immediately, the new law provides that the court shall set a hearing not less than seven days after the issuance of the order. Finally, the law protects whistleblowers from retaliatory accusations of trade secret misappropriation, so long as the whistleblowers disclose the trade secret information to government or court officials in confidence.

The DTSA does not preempt existing state law, which will preserve options for metalcasters in regard to whether to file federal or state claims and court selection. It also notably omits any requirement that a trade secret plaintiff describe its trade secrets with particularity, which helps to protect the sensitive trade secret information after prosecution of the offender. The criminal provisions of the DTSA increase the penalties for a criminal violation from $5,000,000 to the greater of $5,000,000 or three times the value of the stolen trade secrets to the organization, including the costs of reproducing the trade secrets.

As a result of the legislation, your business may wish to consider four responses to the DTSA after consulting your business attorney:
First, you may wish to update your employment and confidentiality agreements to disclose the whistleblower immunity provisions in the DTSA. If you do so, your company may be eligible to recover double damages or attorney fees in trade secret litigation.

Second, reevaluate your company’s tolerance for bringing trade secrets claims. Many companies have been deterred from making claims in the past because of the uncertainties and delays in state courts. Federal courts, however, have smaller case loads, allowing them to more directly and efficiently manage such litigation.

Third, take inventory of your company’s trade secrets and evaluate the protections in place to maintain the confidentiality of those secrets. Preventative measures are far more effective and less costly at keeping your secrets safe than trying to “re-secure” a trade secret after it is disclosed.

Fourth, develop response plans for suspected misappropriation and for receiving a seizure order. Trade secret litigation tends to move relatively quickly. Having a plan for what to do in the event your secrets are stolen will prevent unnecessary delays that can compromise your rights.   

Click here to see this story as it appears in the September/October 2017 issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.


Everybody Writes

October 1, 2017--Do we need another book on writing? Yes, because as Ann Handley explains, everybody writes. Handley is the Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, and her book, “Everybody Writes, Your Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content,” offers many ways everyone to improve their writing. We’re looking at you, fellow marketers. And ourselves. 

Why did Handley write this book? Because we live on Planet Publisher and everybody writes stuff. If you tweet, blog, post on LinkedIn or Facebook, or send emails on any subject, you write and publish. Since publishing is a privilege, you owe it to your readers—whoever they are—to think of them first.

In the foreword, Nancy Duarte (Owner, Duarte Design), says “If Strunk and White’s ‘The Elements of Style’ and Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ had a baby, this would be it.”

“Everybody Writes” is such an entertaining child; however, along with the fun, it’s deadly serious about better content creation. (Ms. Handley, please note I used a semicolon while joining independent clauses with “however.”)

We owe it to our audience to write better. As writers, we must be relentless audience advocates. Reading can, and should, be part of a great user experience. Compelling writing serves your audience.

The book has 74 short, quickly digestible chapters, making it easy to read in short bursts. If brevity is the soul of wit, this is a witty book, indeed.

“Everybody Writes” abounds in aphorisms. Saying it “abounds in quotables” would violate one of Handley’s criterion to avoid turning one part of speech into another. “Quotable” is an adjective, not a noun.

For instance, Handley says:
 “… I might not believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in writer’s evasion.” (If you’re a writer, you know exactly what she means.)
 “… at some point, you do have to rush your own art. Otherwise, your art sits on its butt on the couch eating chips and salsa.” In other words, “Deadlines are the WD-40 of Writing.”
 “… no business truly sells to another business; we all sell to people.”

There are two kinds of people, “those who think they can write, and those who think they can’t. (And too often, both are wrong!)”

There is so much more excellent guidance in “Everybody Writes” than I can tell you here. Just applying Handley’s rules for avoiding clichés like the plague, or omitting useless words from the start of your sentences, are enough to make you a better writer, immediately. 

The works on writing that I regularly consult are the 1982 edition of Jack Capon’s “The Word,” an Associated Press Guide to Good News Writing, George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language,” and “The Elements of Style.” Now, “Everybody Writes” will take its place on my shelf next to those so I can refer to it regularly, as well. 

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