Even though my Dad was a high school science teacher, I always had difficulty identifying and completing a worthy science project. Usually I did some research and made a poster of the issue at hand. These attempts were never very impressive. It seemed I was always working on it the day before it was due.
One of our family hobbies was insect collecting. We had separate cases of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, beetles, and true bugs. They had been captured in Kentucky and Ohio and other states to which we had traveled, such as Texas and Michigan where we had family. They represented 10 years of the family's efforts, mostly those of my brothers Joe and Jack and mine. We always carried with us a tool we used to collect insects consisting of a mop handle with a wire hoop and a cone of cheesecloth fixed to one end.
On summer evenings, we spread white sheets on the grass in the back yard and planted in the center a stake with a bald light on top. We located our sleeping bags at the perimeter and periodically awoke and gathered the insects on the sheets or those flying around the light. This process added a number of fine specimens to our collection.
My brother Joe used the collection as his science project when he was a senior. The next year, as a junior, I rearranged the insects into their genus and families and submitted them as my project. A typed guide accompanied the case of insects. Each insect had a number under it, which matched the number in the guide and gave details about individual insects.
My senior year I typed the scientific names of the insects and pasted the appropriate one under each specimen. Joe got a blue ribbon for his science project and I received second place. Jack also organized the collection in novel ways and took it as his science project more than once.
A lot of work went into each year's version of the insect science project. However, as time went on, the judges were harsher with their evaluations and our placing dropped. Regardless of the type of ribbon we won, Joe, Jack and I learned a lot about the order, family, genus, and species of these amazing animals. The insects were mostly the same each year but the knowledge in our reports built upon that of the year before.
Insects are still prominently displayed in the houses of my Mom, and my brothers. My Mom and Dad originally encouraged these projects for the sake of knowledge and beauty. In our adulthood, insects were added from Columbia, Belize, Costa Rica, and Trinidad, as well as other countries.
The best leaders seek knowledge for knowledge's sake. Then they often find applications for that knowledge. I often suggest to my clients that they ask their employees, "What have you learned today." We all learn every day and that realization can lead to personal and professional growth.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.