Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Luck of the Irish?

It is March and St Patrick’s Day is just around the corner. My mother was proudly Irish — possibly full-blooded, although family lore has it that there might be a little French in the mix. With the DNA capabilities these days, I could maybe get some clarity, but part of me likes the mystery. 

My Irish ancestors were so poor that several left Ireland in the early 1800s, before the potato famine. Some came in through Canada because Canadian ship fares were often cheaper; others came through New York. They didn’t linger long on the East Coast, but got jobs building the canals and railroads going west. They were settled in Ohio, Iowa, and Minnesota by the time the potato famine forced other family members to leave Ireland.

I remember events with my mother’s family, which at the time of my childhood still included grandparents and great uncles and aunts that were the first generation born in America. The gatherings were noisy and animated — a constant cacophony of “discussions” regarding current events, politics, and religion. In the midst of the din, it was not uncommon to witness a spontaneous recitation of some well-known poetry, or occasionally something more obscure or even original. It was a time for books to be recommended and shared. My uncle Johnny played the guitar and sang what songs were acceptable having spent 20+ years in the navy. The food was mediocre. 

What I don’t remember are conversations about business, industry, careers, or even work. In fact, I’m not really sure what most of my Irish relatives did for their livings. It simply wasn’t a topic of conversation. Was it because it didn’t matter or because they had no historical connection to "business?” Their families came to America with no money, education, or skills. They were looking for jobs — not business opportunities. The same persons that could quote Yeats or Wilde or Joyce never spoke of great Irish industrialists or inventors.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


In Europe, privacy is considered a fundamental human right. If you are collecting, using, or sharing personal information of a European resident, you will likely have to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that became effective May 25, 2018. This single comprehensive omnibus law covers all industries and sectors and applies to all member countries. Penalties for noncompliance can be severe.

The United States does not have a single comprehensive privacy law. Instead, the United States has a patchwork of federal and state laws and has taken a sectoral approach to regulating data privacy. We have laws specific to industries and type of information such as health care, financial services, telemarketing, student records, and the online collection, use, and disclosure of information from children. States enact their own laws including data breach notification laws that now exist in all 50 states. A business that experiences a data breach must comply with the state law where each individual resides.

Great for lawyers, but terrible for businesses trying to figure out compliance obligations imposed by differing state and federal standards and laws regarding data privacy and breach notification.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir (Random House, 2018)

One characteristic shared by all entrepreneurs is a drive to overcome obstacles in following a dream. Like most entrepreneurs, our clients at Gray Plant Mooty dream on a daily basis of pushing boundaries, building businesses, and creating value … and perhaps getting away from the polar vortex and unrelenting winter weather we’ve been having!

Others demonstrate the drive to improve, to expand, and to create in other spheres of endeavor. Such is the case of Tara Westover. Raised in rural Idaho, she was supposedly home-schooled (but actually left to her own devices) by survivalist parents who mistrusted the government, the medical profession, and formal education in equal measures. Family dynamics routinely encompassed physical and mental abuse.

A spark of curiosity develops into a quest for knowledge that leads her, via Brigham Young University, to a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, a fellowship at Harvard, and a doctorate from the University of Cambridge, but not without some bumps in the road. The strain of straddling two worlds leads to a mental breakdown along the way, but in the end the dream is within her grasp.

Included in former President Barack Obama’s 2018 summer reading list, this book is a remarkable memoir of a young woman caught between two worlds as she works to follow her dreams in the face of great obstacles.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Working Smarter, Not Harder (By Increasing Your Efficiency)

We have all experienced busy periods at work where even after we have organized our tasks, prioritized them, and delegated where appropriate, our final task list is still daunting. As Elizabeth Grace Saunders describes in her Harvard Business Review article “5 Strategies for Getting More Work Done in Less Time,” when we get to this point, we need to shift our focus to increasing our efficiency. It’s time to work smarter, not harder! (Well, sort of.) 

At first, doing so can seem impossible—“how am I supposed to do the same amount, type and quality of work in a shorter amount of time!?” However, as Saunders’ article demonstrates, working efficiently is less about condensing a process that takes you 60 minutes to 30 minutes, and is more about saving time by changing how you approach a given project. Saunders’ offers five practical strategies for getting more work done in less time:

  1. “Clarify Expectations” to confirm what is actually needed, such as a detailed analysis set forth in a memo versus a high-level summary set forth in an email;
  2. “Re-Use Previous Material” if appropriate (for example, if you are giving a presentation, copy, paste, and edit excerpts from similar presentations you gave at an earlier time);
  3. “Develop Templates and Checklists” to save time by documenting routine actions or items that must take place, rather than trying to remember each individual action or item;
  4. “Make It a Conversation” and provide a verbal analysis or update rather than preparing a formal presentation; and 
  5. “Time Box Your Work” to determine in advance how much time you want to spend on a particular task (and then stick to it!).

While the above strategies are not appropriate in every situation, they offer a good starting point for increasing efficiency and getting more work done in less time.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Keep Control of Your Venture

Every founder I work with is concerned about control. And rightly so, given that their new venture is their baby and the beneficiary of a lot of sweat and money out of their own pockets.

Usually the discussion gets interesting when the company begins issuing shares to employees or raising funds, but sometimes we dig into it right at formation. There are various creative methods to approach the issue.

Some traditional methods include implementation of voting agreements or the like, but for a startup looking to add and retain employees in a competitive market those methods may not be an ideal approach, plus they can be overly complex and it can become a burden making sure every employee signs an agreement that nobody other than legal counsel understands. Another method is to implement a dual-class of shares to give one or more founders the sole vote or “super” voting rights.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Self-Healing Technology and Soft Robotics

When we think of technology, whether devices, machinery, or robots, we often imagine hard surfaces, sharp lines, and noncompliant, breakable material. Indeed, the fragility of our electronics is a source of stress for many consumers, who must assess the value of additional warranties or insurance after already having made a substantial investment in the technology itself. We are all very human, and as much as we may try to convince ourselves that we will never drop our new smartphone, we probably will. Unfortunately, these mishaps force us to go through an inconvenient replacement or repair process, to upgrade earlier than expected, or to live with a cracked screen. 

Smartphone companies have begun addressing this issue through self-healing technologies, which give their devices the ability to self-heal small cracks and scratches. Indeed, Motorola and Samsung have filed patents for self-healing technology for smart phones. Self-healing technology is just one of the ways high tech can be reused and repurposed to reduce waste, and it has the potential to substantially impact and revolutionize several industries, including automobilesprosthetics, and robotics

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

You Better Watch Out: How to Avoid a Fa-la-la-la-Lawsuit this Holiday Season

Everyone knows that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loudly for all to hear. But, before preparing your Christmas music repertoire this season, take a minute to think about who owns the rights to the music and how you are performing it. Unless the song is in the public domain, you may need a license in order to play or perform certain songs.

Unlike any other time of year, the holiday season brings into rotation arrangements of public domain works, cover songs of classics, and updated renditions of favorite holiday tunes. In addition, every year dozens of musicians seek to create the next Christmas classic

When it comes to Christmas music, you’d think many timeless classics must be in the public domain. While this is the case for some, such as “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night” (while the composition is in the public domain, recent sound recordings of these songs are still protected by copyright), others—like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “White Christmas,” and “Little Drummer Boy”—have been around for decades but are still protected.