Two Bryant Veterans and two Bryant ROTC cadets recently had the good fortune to attend the 11th annual Student Veterans of America (SVA) National Convention, NATCON 2019. Funding was provided by two $1,000 awards from VFW Post 5390 and Auxiliary 5390 in Portsmouth, RI and a $2,000 SVA/Bank of America Business Plan Competition from 2017. There, among over 2,300 student veterans from community colleges to PhD candidates, the SVA President and CEO Jared Lyon gave a poignant State of Student Veterans speech. The theme was being “Left of Bang” or proactive instead of reactive. This is a skill set ingrained in daily military operations stateside. It is also a planning consideration and intuition for combat missions overseas. Sometimes, it is lost in the transition to civilian life.
For visual understanding imagine a linear timeline stretching left, from the past, to right into the future. The bang is a point of impact for any significant event. This could be predictable and scheduled like an End of Term Separation date from the military, first day of class, final exam, or graduation from school into the “real world”. Bang can also be unforeseen like a paratrooper’s mid-air entanglement, reacting to an enemy ambush, a family illness, a car accident, or a government shutdown when you are living paycheck to paycheck. The bang is something that will have a dramatic effect on your life, the lives of important people surrounding you, or the organization with which you are involved.
The purpose of Left of Bang is being oriented and focused to the time before a significant event. It is to be proactive. If you are right of bang, you are focusing on time after the event or reactive. Military mission planning uses the term Set the Conditions. Predicting worst case scenarios and consequences (the bang) then planning, coordinating, rehearsing, and gathering information to mitigate risk and set the condition favorable for success. We are accustomed to packing list lay-outs, Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services (PMCS) for vehicles, weapon systems, and mission essential equipment, and Pre-Combat Checks and Pre-Combat Inspections (PCCs & PCIs) before we depart friendly lines towards the objective. Sometimes this is the most mundane aspects of military life and the bane of most service members’ existence but they are there for a reason. We conduct battle drills to better understand battlefield geometry so every war-fighter knows what to do, by instinct and muscle memory, when communication breaks down or key leaders are incapacitated. Successful leaders communicate the Commander’s Intent for two levels above their own so even the newest member of the team can adapt and use initiative when the best laid out plan fails and s/he, as the lone survivor, fights on to the objective and completes the mission. Being Left of Bang fosters an adaptive and resilient individual.
The opposite approach is a reactive mindset. It is constantly under-performing because it is still mitigating the blow-back from the previous significant event and ill prepared for life’s next “bang”. This mindset is cynical after continuously being beaten down by the inevitable follies in life. It seeks to pin the blame on anyone or anything else since they must now put out fires. A reactive or Right of Bang mindset does not accept responsibility to change thinking habits or practice better time management hygiene. This mindset cannot effectively multitask. It may multitask out of shear necessity, but by no means efficiently.
Being Left of Bang and Setting the Conditions reminds me of Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix. This is a tool introduced in many Business Leadership or Management classes and can be adapted to many other aspects of life. Activities, events, or tasks are prioritized in four quadrants. Before continuing it is also important at this time to clearly identify your, or your organization’s mission statement. This is the “why” you get out of bed in the morning or how you define success. Think of an end-state, where are you now and where do you want to be? Now, the top two quadrants are both IMPORTANT to that mission statement. The bottom two are less or NOT IMPORTANT to you being successful. The left column has two quadrants that are URGENT or time sensitive. The right column holds two quadrants of activities that are less or NOT URGENT on a time scale. The key is organizing daily activities and habits into their correct quadrant.
To be Left of Bang you must identify your end-state. Be honest about where you are and current limitations. Sort the activities in the appropriate quadrants. The top left quadrant under IMPORTANT and URGENT is where most people operate on a day to day basis. Things need to get done and they need to get done now. It is a reactive quadrant putting out fires and not investing in risk mitigation to prevent the next catastrophe. It is a symptom of not having a Left of Bang mentality. The bottom two quadrants are the causes. They seem urgent but are really not important like pointless meetings or popular activities with no definite benefit. The activity or habit in the bottom right quadrant is what one needs to avoid or eliminate at all costs. These are NOT IMPORTANT and NOT URGENT but soaks up most of one’s available time. These are time wasters that do not contribute to the mission statement or end-state. Social media is a big one. TV and gossip are others. They are immediate gratifiers that our baser-wants demand but end up causing us to live in a Right of Bang existence. To be Left of Bang we need increase activities in the top right quadrant labeled IMPORTANT but NOT URGENT.
The top right quadrant is where Left of Bang thinkers thrive. It is the golden zone. It predicts foreseeable events and identifies implied-tasks necessary to achieve success. It utilizes backwards planning and sets milestones to set metrics conducive for achieving goals. These activities invest time and energy into oneself or the organization’s mission statement. It builds relationships and rapport. It thinks about risk mitigation. It balances what-if scenarios and probability of occurrence. It operates in the future to predict likely courses of action and most dangerous courses of action. The Left of Bang mindset thinks of ways to lessen the probability of previously unforeseen significant events, or bangs, ever happening at all. While we cannot control everything in life, we can control how we react to them. Focusing on increasing the activities in the top right quadrant, or operating Left of Bang, enables us greater flexibility in uncertain times. It conserves wasted energy, time, and resources for more productive endeavors. It allows us to transcend our stations in life so we grow and achieve our goals instead of constantly being behind the power curve and feeling overwhelmed with life’s challenges.
Student veterans that attended the 11th SVA NatCon defined success merely by being there. They all faced challenges in the military, transitioning from the military to student life, and even struggle with obstacles in their family or personal lives. Each of the over 2,300 men and women chose to operate Left of Bang by investing in themselves and their individual SVA chapters by networking, cross-pollinating best practices, and seeking careers after graduation. They will continue to be successful by investing in their professional development that will pay dividends in the future. Many transitioned from junior enlisted, being on the receiving end of strategic intent, to planning operations and logistics to get their peers across the country to this event. They will continue to show resilience and growth at every stage in their development. The learning never ends.