New products, new ideas often found among the ‘unknowns’

One day when I was about 11 years old, I was playing behind our big red barn. As I cornered the barn, I noticed a large groundhog facing away from me. He was munching on clumps of clover with the speed of a lawnmower. Occasionally, he rose onto his hind legs and survey his territory. As he did so, he froze to listen for potential danger. I, too, froze and watched him for about thirty minutes. Finally, my nose began to itch. When I reached to relieve my itch, the groundhog spotted my movement and ran into a hole underneath the back of the barn.

My curiosity led me to examine the escape hole. It was dark inside but appeared to be quite large. I decided to retrieve a flashlight and explore the unknown area farther. When I returned, I shined the light into the hole and could tell that it was not a typical groundhog hole. The dirt was soft around the entrance so I enlarged the hole. Eventually, I could get my head and shoulders inside the hole.

Slowly, I moved the light from left to right in a semi-circle. My jaw dropped as I realized what was before me. I had found a hidden room that had been purposefully closed off for some reason. I used my hand to clear off a net of spider webs covered with dust that blocked my way. After removing several other mats of ancient spider webs, I made my way into the center of the room.

It had a dirt floor that was about three feet lower than the rest of the barn’s floor. In the left-hand corner, a number of round, wooden dowels poked out of the dirt. Like an archaeologist, I carefully scraped the soil away exposing five 2-foot long dowels. Deteriorated pieces of cloth, possibly from old flags were mixed in with the dirt. Squeezed between two wallboards above my find of dowels, a bag-like object the size of a small balloon protruded. With some examination, I realized that it was the mummified body of a small animal probably a rat. I hurried back out of the hole and proceeded to share my find with my brother, Jack.

I was filled with wonder that such a huge hidden room could have escaped my exploration for four years. I learned that the unknowns in life are always under our noses. Leaders need to explore the unknowns to find new products, new markets, and new ways of producing their present products. Sometimes the unknowns will simply be interesting. Other times we will parlay the new awareness into significant success.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.