Michael R. Bloomberg

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Listen, Question,Test,Think

I learned to both be self-sufficient and, simultaneously, to live and

work with others.

When I think back on the moments in my life that motivated

and inspired me the most, my mind always drifts

back to my childhood days in Boston.

Boy Scout summer camp was the highlight of the year.

Accommodations were two-man tents under the stars for six

weeks in the wilds of New Hampshire. A bugle blew reveille

in the morning. We showered under ice-cold water. The food

was hot dog and hamburger fare in a big mess hall where

everyone took turns peeling potatoes, setting the tables, doing

the dishes. I remember loving the meals, particularly the

grape-flavored punch called “bug juice.” Daily, there were riflery,

archery, rowing, canoeing, swimming, art, ceramics, and

dozens of other games and skills. Hikes and river trips were

the highlight of the week—and parents came to bothersome

visiting days only once or twice in the whole summer. It was

the time I learned to both be self-sufficient and, simultaneously,

to live and work with others.

On Saturday mornings in the winter, I went to the Boston

Museum of Science for lectures that introduced the natural and

physical world in a way my school could not. Each week, for

two hours, I sat spellbound as an instructor brought snakes,

porcupines, and owls for us to hold; demonstrated the basic

laws of physics with hands-on experiments; and quizzed us

on every museum exhibit. All the kids—including me—tried to

show off by having every answer. This competition taught the

value of precise observation, attention to detail, and careful

Source: Michael R. Bloomberg, Bloomberg by Bloomberg (New

York: Wiley, 2001). Printed with permission.

listening. Once the question concerned the age of a tree whose

five-foot cross-section was displayed in the museum upstairs.

The exhibit had great historical events marked by a light bulb

at each appropriate tree ring, from the current-day outside

circle back to the tree’s germination centuries earlier, at the

center of the display. The question was asked about “the redwood

tree.” We were suitably frustrated by an instructor who

refused to accept what we all knew was the “right” answer,

until someone realized the tree cross-section was not from

a redwood at all, but rather from a giant sequoia—a related

but slightly different variety. Listen, question, test, think: Those

instructors taught me the value of intellectual honesty and

scholarship years before college.