Sometimes when learning surfaces slowly, it is barely visible, until one day the world looks different. Responding to that difference is the first layer of that complex process often labeled as learning. The Cycle of Intentional Practice was a long time coming—emerging from many years of conducting evaluations, where I worked closely with museum staff and leadership as well as with visitors. The Cycle of Intentional Practice is an illustration of an ideal work cycle that started to form when I was writing “A Case for Holistic Intentionality”. I am visually oriented and I often have to draw my ideas before I write about them; in this case, I was writing about my ideas and then I felt the need to create a visualization to depict what I was thinking—in part to help me understand what I was thinking, but also to help others. I included the first iteration of the cycle in the manuscript to Curator, but the editor said the Journal does not usually publish that kind of illustration, so I put it aside.
That original cycle differs from the one I use today—it was simpler (it included “Plan,” “Act,” and “Evaluate”), and while I didn’t know it at the time, it was a draft. There have been several more iterations over time (one was “Plan,” “Act,” and “Evaluate & Reflect,” for example); as I continue to learn and improve my practice, I change the cycle accordingly. Most stunning to me was that the first draft of the cycle showed nothing in the center—nothing! I feel a little embarrassed by my omission and I am not entirely sure what I was thinking at the time, but I hope my oversight was short-lived. At some point I placed the word “Intentions” in the center, and as I clarified my ideas, with the hope of applying the cycle to our evaluation and planning work, I eventually replaced “intentions” with “impact.” I recall how difficult it was to explain the concept of “intentions” so I eventually needed to remove the word from the center (as much as I loved having it there). If my goal was to have museums apply the cycle to their daily and strategic work, the cycle needed to represent an idea people found comfortable and doable. Soon I realized that intentionality was the larger concept of the cycle and what needed to be placed in the center was the result of a museum’s work on its publics–impact. So was born our intentionality work with museums. Then I realized the true power of intentionality—mission could go in the center as well as outcomes, or anything for that matter. The artist’s rendition below demonstrates the versatility of intentionality as a concept.
What I find most amazing is that two crucial ideas—reflection and impact—were not present in the first iterations of the cycle, although they were discussed when I talked about intentionality. Our intentional planning work (which we refer to as impact planning) would be rudderless without the presence of impact and our ability to learn from our work would be weakened without reflection. And that brings me to another realization, which I am reminded of daily—the never-ending pursuit of achieving clarity of thought, followed by writing a clear expression of that thought.
Today I talk about the Cycle of Intentional Practice as a draft—it will always be on the verge of becoming, but these days I am more comfortable with the idea of the Cycle being a draft—an idea in process—than I was a decade ago; in fact, I have come to realize that all work is a draft and that if one is serious about learning and applying new ideas to work and life, then all ideas, all products, all knowledge are mere drafts because learning is continuous, right?
Humbling? Yes indeed.