2017-10-30 Issue 21 Fundamental Behavior 20 – Pay Attention To The Details
This week we’re discussing paying attention to the details. I’d like to share with you something that happened to me almost forty years ago that is a good example of someone not paying attention to details. In 1980, I was testifying before the International Trade Commission in Washington, D.C., about a patent infringement charge that had been lodged against YKK. The patent in question was about to expire, and it was ancient technology to begin with, but the fact of the matter was that YKK’s process didn’t come close to infringing on the patent, and (spoiler alert) YKK was ultimately found to be innocent of the specious charges. The accusers didn’t challenge us in a regular court, they used the ITC which conducts administrative hearings and is much less technically oriented, which concerned us.
It’s a long story involving 90 days of grueling preparation for the hearing, but I’ll try to be brief. My job was to serve as YKK’s “expert witness.” This was the patent case where Tom Shintani achieved immortality in the annals of YKK USA history by transporting an old television from Macon to Washington in the “YKK station wagon” so we could show a slow-motion video proving our machine definitely did not infringe. My how times and video technology have changed since then. By the way, we never got that TV back!
Let me tell you up front, I was as nervous as I’ve ever been in my life. I testified for an entire day in a courtroom packed with spectators. My eyes were completely bloodshot from the tension and stress. After about five hours on the stand, I was asked by the opposing attorney, “Mr. Gregory, you are YKK’s expert witness, are you not?” “Yessir, I am,” I responded politely. Then he asked, “Are you familiar with the patents related to this case?’ I answered, “Well, I’m familiar with a lot of them.” Then he smiled and slammed a foreign YKK patent in front of me and said, “Are you familiar with THIS patent?” I stated that I was not, thinking and hoping that the administrative law judge would allow me to spend time with our attorneys discussing the unfamiliar patent. Instead, the judge asked me how long it would take me to become familiar with the patent. I replied that I had no idea how long it would take. Then she said, “Mr. Gregory, begin studying the patent. No one is allow to approach the witness.”
So there I sat in front of more than one hundred people trying to study a 20-page patent. Have you ever read a patent? It’s the most detailed document you will ever read. After trying unsuccessfully to focus on the words in front of me, I sort of gave up, said a little prayer, and started flipping pages. About six pages in, at the bottom of the page, were the words, “Although there are two cords inside the monofilament, they act as one.” That statement seemed to prove the other side’s case, as one of the main points of our defense was that the patent called for one cord, but we had two cords. I’m sure my shoulders slumped as I thought to myself, “That’s what he found, and that’s what he’s going to make me read in this court to prove we are infringing.”
What happened next shows the importance of paying attention to the details. For reasons I’ll never understand, no doubt it was divine intervention or blind luck, I turned the page and read the next sentence. The very next words were, “However, that is not the case as both cords are needed.” And then it went on to explain the reason for the two cords. I said to myself, “The attorney didn’t turn the page! He didn’t read the sentence on the next page.”
I told the judge, “Your honor, I’m ready to proceed!” Sure enough, the opposing attorney — with a huge smile on his face — said, “Mr. Gregory, please read the last sentence on the bottom of page 6.” I did as he instructed, and then he said, “What do you have to say about that!” To which I said, “You didn’t turn the page!” As he looked at me with a very puzzled expression, I turned to page 7 and quickly read the sentence that completely restored our innocence. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the YKK team seated in the back row of the courthouse jumping up and down in relief and happiness. The chagrined attorney had no more questions for me after that exchange.
As a disclaimer, let me say that I have used quotes, but they are based on my very imperfect recollection of the actual words. But the story transpired as I have explained it even if the words were slightly different.
The lesson we all learned was that the opposing attorney had not followed Fundamental Behavior #20. He did not “Pay attention to details.” The old saying is “The devil is in the details.” In my case, I found an angel in the details on the top of page 7. Now please discuss Fundamental #20, “Pay attention to the details,” and share with us your personal experiences. Thank you.
Chairman and CEO
YKK Corporation of America