Led by Grace

It frequently happens at this time of year—this stretch between Thanksgiving and year-end holidays. We are apt to be a few degrees out of our normal routine—auto pilot off—when suddenly, ZING! A moment of grace, instead of passing unnoticed, slips through and hits home. We are fully awake to life in that instant. And somehow, all we need to know is contained in it. Might this “flashing” be encounters with ‘enlightenment’? Perhaps its onset? Those sweet spots are pure truth. Imagine a life connecting these dots.

A person who catches on to this can develop quite an appetite for it. One begins to wonder at countless missed opportunities to be glad. No more of that! Our intention is to notice. And we do. That is not to deny trouble and tragedy in our world. Rather this fulsome perspective brings clarity and the ability to meet them with greater strength—greater intelligence. Whatever else abides in our world, grace abides here too.

Curious how what we follow seems also to follow us. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” would seem the conclusion of one led by grace.


“Happiness cannot be traveled to,
owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience
of living every minute with love,
grace, and gratitude.”

—Denis Waitley


Hey Sport!

All Indianapolis mayoral administrations of recent decades will testify that professional sports are essential to the city’s financial health. The same is true in cities across the nation—and benefits do not end on the bottom line. Sport enterprise pumps money through the community, draws desirable residents, commerce, and industry, and instills vitality in the culture. Expanding major sports has proven a worthy community enhancement.

We recognize city leaders, team owners, and league operatives who establish and maintain this community asset. Yet, most impressive are the contributions of an outstanding array of players and staff who, off-field or off-court, take it upon themselves to become community builders in splendid ways of their own. Indianapolis surely struck the mother lode in this regard. The occasional bad actor or disappointing incident may cross the stage, but the enduring and active good will of many are the main act—too many to mention here and not to be risked for those we might miss applauding.

Those puzzled by the importance others place on competitive events say, “It’s just a game.” Actually it is more. Life’s consideration falls on a spectrum—survival instinct and will to live at one end, realization instinct and will to excel at the other. Those bent on more life, whether they are the player or championing others, invest in its full spectrum.

Thought Leaders

Stop reading at the end of this sentence and choose someone whose thinking you pay attention to, someone whose opinion you value. The person you hold in mind is a thought leader. You may well be a thought leader yourself. At the very least, you have the potential and opportunity to rival the best because thinking is a skill, or rather a set of skills, that anyone within the range of normal intelligence can develop to a much higher potential than most of us realize—boosting one to another dimension of the human thinking scale.

Shortly after Schmidt Associates opened our doors, Edward deBono was the world’s foremost authority on thinking. Multitudes were introduced to methods of thinking development from his books and workshops. (We still have a set of red, white, yellow, green, blue, and black “thinking hats” here.) The ability to break through one-track thinking, which predictably gets stuck at some point, was/is a great value in business and everywhere else.

Thinking ruts suck up a lot of energy. Without revisiting deBono’s particulars, we would remind all of its core wisdom. Excessive focus produces singular viewpoints, but creating a space to hold multiple viewing points births possibilities that would not otherwise be conceived. Loosen up and begin here: There is another way of looking at this.

“Whatever you do, you must remain nimble in your thinking. Do not become so attached to any one belief that you cannot see past it to another possibility.”

—Christopher Paolini

Two Questions

The founding fathers explicitly warned fellow countrymen to distrust government and to remain vigilant in their suspicion. They knew full well the tendency of those with a measure of power to steadily encroach on those with less, until the latter are fully subjugated. We were to be a nation of citizens, not subjects. That meant, and still means, that we must be strong citizens to have strong leaders. The responsibility lies first with us, as we are a people governed by our own consent.

We are hearing the noise of another major election approaching. Some citizens are attempting to claw back power from those they feel have misrepresented them and betrayed the interests of our nation. It gets a little ugly, but it doesn’t compare with, oh say—beheading. Wherever you fall in the political spectrum, you can afford to smile at the dissent that is being “Trumpeted” before consent is given anyone to lead.

The experiment that is the USA is still going. Whatever else is in contention, we always struggle for a balance of power between the government and the people … between collectivism and individualism.

As we scan would-be candidates, we wonder, “What would a servant leader look like in office?” And the next question of course, “How does a citizen help that happen?”

“Leadership can not be measured in a poll or even in the result of an election. It can only be truly seen with the benefit of time. From the perspective of 20 years, not 20 days.”

—Marco Rubio

Hasten Slowly

Roman coins inscribed with the motif of a dolphin entwined about an anchor.

“Make haste slowly” was the motto of Emperor Augustus who found rash behavior abhorrent especially in military command. Emperor Titus expressed the same, having Roman coins inscribed with the motif of a dolphin entwined about an anchor. The tireless speed of a dolphin and the grounding stability of an anchor were symbols Romans could readily relate to. Augustus and Titus, both superior leaders, knew that abandoning diligence in fevered pursuit of one’s objective was asking for trouble. A balance must be struck.

The month of May in Indy is all about speed. Our exuberance for life’s rebound each spring is well expressed in our being ‘off to the races’! Those very events illustrate that even when speed is the primary consideration it is not the only one. Full speed from “Go!” is a fine strategy for a sprint but fails in a marathon. Limiting factors that reality imposes on us, trying as they may be, can make challenges more gratifying when met and us better for the attempt, regardless of outcome. Negotiating the twists and turns, figuring capacities and conditions, persevering—that takes a master! We can lean into our endeavors without running off course or falling headlong into what lies ahead.

 “Hasten slowly”, pedantic by today’s standards, has been an oft adopted motto because its wisdom continues to prove itself. We think it has ‘gravitas’.

Crime prevention through environmental design

As communities work on neighborhood revitalization, one strategy of note is to deter crime through design. When Schmidt Associates studies opportunities in a neighborhood, we use a variety of crime deterrence design strategies including;

  • Natural Surveillance – adding first floor windows onto the street, lowering hedges and fences, providing proper lighting, all provide both the perception and the reality that you are “visible” to others, and enhancing occupant safety while allowing the opportunity to meet neighbors and build community.
  • Access Control-Access Control Strategies can be as simple as locking gates, and thorny bushes, to enhancing building access points and vestibules.
  • Ownership/Territory Reinforcement – The design of a space can indicate public, private, and semipublic space. This not only creates a sense of Ownership, but it makes intruders more easily identifiable.
  • Benches, art, trees, and scheduled activities indicate the purpose and ownership of a space.
  • Activity Support- both the scheduling of activity and indicators of activity (signage, etc.), natural surveillance (and the perception of surveillance) can enhance safety across a site and a neighborhood.
  • Maintenance- the removal of blight and ongoing maintenance indicates a place that is cared for- where a sense of pride permeates residence, and where crime will not be tolerated.

Crime prevention is the issue of the day in Indianapolis. Environmental design, when properly executed can be a key part of the solution.

Leadership Moment from April

Ford Motor Company provided an exemplary model of communicating their core value when they launched “Quality is Job One”. That concise message not only informed prospective buyers where Ford’s major emphasis was placed, it communicated to Ford’s employees the intention they were to fulfill.

The word may seem a nebulous abstraction but “value” is the bedrock upon which all life rests. Survival is the fundamental value, but once that is assured, others are more operational—their hierarchy determining all choices made. Values that rise to the top become the drivers in life’s further development, whether that is the life of an individual or a company.

Servant Leadership, our core value at Schmidt Associates, does not lend itself to capture in a succinct slogan. That’s OK. Not only do actions speak louder than words, they speak first—particularly in regard to servant leadership. Instead of telling others our intention, we listen to theirs. An optimal response can only be garnered from a position of full understanding and appreciation. If we prove capable and respectful of “owners” (clients’) values, a relationship of confidence and trust grows in which we may be allowed greater leadership responsibility. That is our preferred platform; it has worked pretty well.

Knowing what is of greater and lesser value is the basis of sound judgment—a skill necessary for survival and success. What is your core?

“Define what your brand stands for, its core values and tone of voice, and then communicate consistently in those terms.”

—Simon Mainwaring


Look Up

With the recent launch of Look Up, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is working “to reconnect the public with architecture and position new generations of architects as catalysts of growth and visionaries for renewal.”

Since its inception, Schmidt Associates has a legacy of active AIA generational involvement whose roots lie in servant leadership, a defining element of our firm. The legacy includes individuals who authored the first-ever comprehensive local architectural purview—Indianapolis Architecture—serve as the National Chair of the AIA Committee on Design, serve on the National AIA Board of Directors, as well as numerous years of leadership on local and state level boards.

Our deep investment in AIA stems from a corporate value that we should purposely continue the discussion of design excellence among ourselves, with other professionals, and within the community. This level of engagement extends well beyond today’s notion of networking to become purposeful in working with colleagues to accomplish the mutual goals of those larger AIA realms.

In addition to the multiple professional services contracts provided by the AIA to the design and construction industry, the AIA provides our membership with professional development, education, and engagement opportunities through a myriad of focused conferences, online learning, and annual national conventions. These opportunities lead to personal and professional growth through travel and explorations of new design work in cities across the globe, strong connections to colleagues with whom to build alliances and team with to pursue new work, and the ability to work together to impact governmental decisions at all levels with a common voice. The focus of these pursuits is ultimately to advance the quality of life through design for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

The commitment to AIA is important for those hiring architects. It means you are getting a professional committed to the overall community, lifelong learning, and professional excellence in the architectural field.

Leadership Moment from March

Messaging, nuance, spin—are words used when truth is massaged to create a desired narrative and to influence (if not control) others’ reactions to what is being spoken of. It’s nothing new. Human nature predisposes us to manage outcomes to our advantage. Capitalism further exposes us to this dynamic as Americans are constantly being marketed to. The difference now is that the level of sophistication is rising, while the effectiveness of countervailing forces is falling.

Truth can become fuzzier the more it is parsed. Deceit is functional. There are costs to be avoided and gains to be made in its use—significant ones. (Are you seeing the slippery slope here?) Outsmarting the next person yields a win—truth, a loss. So we adopt today’s popular strategy: ‘Whatever it takes’ which aligns with an unshakable will to succeed.

Morality aside, here is the cost: If you tell a lie long enough, people believe it to be true, but furthermore if you tell a lie long enough, YOU believe it to be true. Trafficking in fiction loosens our grip on truth in general. If truth is irrelevant it soon becomes unrecognizable.

There is a different model which pushes against the erosion of truth—one that breeds trust and mutuality. It incorporates values that prevent slippage when an objective becomes over-inflated. It’s our choice—servant leadership.

“Goodness is about character—integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people.”

—Dennis Prager

Leadership Moment from February

As much as we may wish for simplicity, our world is increasingly one of complexity. Reality is immune to our wishing. What strategy is required for success today?

One may have an objective, idea(s), even a plan—but between that and execution is a process step that determines satisfaction of outcome in any endeavor. Ignored, we find ourselves wrestling with sub-standard results and an under-current of dissatisfaction. Stress, anyone?

In our industry, design is fundamental. It is our business to navigate the intersections and perils along the yellow brick road so Owners (clients) get their “Emerald City”. When we excel, much that would detract from the destination (or the trip) escapes attention.

If you reach for a certain coffee mug, sigh when “those” jeans are in the wash, or routinely grab a favorite tool, you know the flavor of good design—even if its elements escape you. Larger, more complex matters require substantially greater intelligence, patience, and effort in design, yet are no more noticeable. Oh the woes that ne’er occur and therefore blind our knowing!

We want to understand things, but do not want them to be complicated. Like it or not, much is. Not all answers are a click or sound bite away but are reachable. Design is what can turn small steps for man into giant leaps for mankind.

“Good design is making something intelligible and memorable. Great design is making something memorable and meaningful.”

—Dieter Rams