SAMS professor named on creative people list
June 7, 2012
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (June 7, 2012) -- On this year's list of Fast Company's "100 Most Creative People in Business" is a man who is not in a creative job field nor is he in business.
Matthew Schmidt, an assistant professor at the School of Advanced Military Studies, placed 22nd on the business magazine's third annual list for gleaning design methodologies from practicing designers and using them to teach military strategic planning.
Schmidt's interest in using design in strategic thinking dates back to 2008, when he was working on his doctorate in comparative politics and international relations at Georgetown University. At the time, he was part of the Project on National Security Reform. The PNSR was tasked with a complex problem -- how to reform the U.S. national security system in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- with constantly evolving and detailed planning.
"They happen simultaneously," Schmidt said, "because you have to have a sort of detailed planning to understand what the broad concept is. So, design argues for this idea of integrated planning, that you develop these ideas simultaneously."
Schmidt said the idea of using design in strategic thinking was still relatively new. Because of this, his experience with PNSR made him an ideal candidate to teach military leadership how to look at military problems in this way. When SAMS approached Schmidt in 2009 with a teaching position doing just this, he took it and then began cold-calling leading national design firms.
"I said, 'Look we do this thing called design and we apply it to military strategy,'" Schmidt said.
One of these calls ended up in the office of Phillip Hofstra, who directed the design studio for Populous at the time.
"I was highly skeptical. He's smart enough and he's quick enough that I knew I was talking to a very bright person," Hofstra said of his first conversation with Schmidt.
Hofstra said he couldn't understand how military strategic thinking could possibly fit in with what his studio was doing at Populous, but he was curious. The two men met several times to discuss the idea. After the third two-hour conversation, Hofstra started warming up to the idea of using design principle as a problem identification tool in strategic thinking.
"I was so myopically focused on buildings and building elements," Hofstra said. "I never thought 'let's lift this up and set it down elsewhere.'"
Populous, along with Safdie, TwoWest and Barkley, began an education exchange program with Schmidt's class. Schmidt's students saw firsthand how designers were able to develop the tiniest details, while keeping in mind an overarching conceptual idea.
Maj. Chanda Mofu, now with the 82nd Airborne Division, said Schmidt's class taught him that solving military problems not only requires research and reading, but the ability to think outside of the problem to the unforeseen variables, which can affect the solution. Mofu said he has used the principles of design in his current mission in Afghanistan.
"We come together to find out what the actual problem is, what our current situation is, and what the end state looks like. We have to consider all the variables that don't allow us to reach our end state and develop an approach to get there," Mofu said. "It isn't linear and requires a group of individuals who don't think the same."
As for the business aspect, Hofstra said, in the enterprise in which Schmidt operates, the profit is peace. He said if design could contribute even in the smallest way to the kind of problem solving that the military does -- reduction of harm to personnel -- then why not try it?
"You can't find a design problem with a better outcome than that," he said.