22. Matthew Schmidt

Assistant Professor of Political Science of School of Advanced Military Studies, How To Break Out Of Top-Down Thinking

Matthew Schmidt teaches select officers the highly difficult process of designing modern military operations at this Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, school. Three years ago, he cold-called national design firms Populous and Safdie with a compelling plea: Teach us what you know. He explains what happened:

"Military situations don't work in a linear fashion. Design is similar. When Kansas City built its new soccer stadium, we worked directly with the owners, lead engineers, and architects so our students could see professionals using design thinking.

"There are real-world tensions associated with big design projects. Typically, architects work with owners to draw a nascent vision, and then translate that vision to construction engineers.But when [the stadium architects] did something distinctive—they had the construction engineers in on day one for design discussions—it sped up construction by almost a year and saved money. More important, they were able to come out with a living design that exceeded expectations. That experience informed our last war-game exercise. There were great opportunities for communication and cross-fertilization.

"The tendency in any organization is to look for the five steps to do anything and make it a system. But that's not how to look at a complex world. What does it take to develop a strategic thinker? And where do we need this person? We may need to inculcate strategic thinking—the mind-set to approach an ill-structured problem—throughout the ranks. That would mean that the military is redesigning itself."

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