Not all those who wander are lost . . .*

Sometimes it is helpful to watch guests looking at signs or exhibits.

Sometimes it is helpful to watch guests looking at signs or exhibits.

Phil Hewlett and David Packard of HP fame suggested that “management by walking around” is an extraordinarily useful tool for seeing how operations are going in the workplace. Just getting out and seeing how your employees are working and interacting with each other can tell you far more than staying in your office and only observing reactions to question and answer sessions during annual evaluations.

I’ve found that same principle to be valuable in interpretive planning. In fact, it’s my second principle of interpretive planning from Interpretive Planning: the 5-M Model for Successful Planning Projects (second edition). Simply stated, it’s “pay attention . . . to everything.”

I find that it helps me pay attention if I take something to write with or on everywhere I go. Once upon a time, that meant carrying a little notebook and a pen, but these days, I’m just as likely to pull out my iPhone to record images or thoughts as I have them.

You can also see how you think the exhibit works.

You can also see how you think the exhibit works.

What I’m recording is what I’m experiencing in various settings. What works, what doesn’t, how other people are reacting to different media, what they’re saying to the other people in their party. Yes, I suppose that counts as eavesdropping, but I try to be unobtrusive unless I decide to actively engage them in conversation. It’s not that I’m stalking for any nefarious purpose . . . I simply use every observation and interaction as a learning experience. I tuck away what I’ve seen and heard for future reference, but I find that actually shooting a photo or making a note helps me remember what I’ve learned.

Planning by wandering around should not have you bumping into things in a purposeless daze. Instead, the idea is to focus, but on everything instead of just one thing. By being completely conscious of your surroundings at all times, you will find yourself seeing and hearing more than you ever thought possible. You don’t necessarily have to analyze your observations on the spot, but going back to your notes will help you make sense of what you’ve seen or heard or smelled when you have time to reflect.

It is always good to pencil test a trail or path through a site from the view of a guest.

It is always good to pencil test a trail or path through a site from the view of a guest.

Planning by wandering around also means field-testing your ideas by walking through your plans before you put them on the ground. If you are working on something where the infrastructure has not yet been built, this may mean that you have to pencil-test your ideas by literally taking a pencil to your floor plan or site plan and then trace the proposed steps of staff and visitors using a variety of perspectives. Doing this will help you identify and correct potential bottlenecks, glare issues, and other problems (why did the architect propose keeping food for the live exhibits in a room on the other side of the building from the animals?) before they are built.

So whenever you are out, pay attention. Wandering around can be one of your best planning tools. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Lisa Brochu

* J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

One Response to “Not all those who wander are lost . . .*”

  1. Trent Redfield Says:

    Lisa, I appreciate the geeky quote, but as an uber-geek, I had to chime in on this one. The poem you quote does not appear in The Hobbit, but is in the Fellowship of the Rings and refers to the character Aragorn/Strider.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_that_is_gold_does_not_glitter

    Great blog entry and great quote. Since I’ve done quite a bit of wandering in my lifetime, I’ve always appreciated this quote from one the most influential books on my life.

    Trent Redfield


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