Monday, May 9, 2016

How to Design Your Life After the Military: Veterans and Design Thinking

When I transitioned out of the Army last year, I was pretty excited about becoming a civilian and re-entering society as a Veteran. It was going to be a new adventure—and adventure that I was really looking forward to.

One of the lessons I learned in the Army is that people with fixed mindsets who don't learn and adapt quickly become irrelevant. As an officer who served in heavy combat in Iraq, I saw firsthand the negative consequences that can result from failing to adapt to the situation on the ground. In my new environment as a Veteran, I knew I wasn’t going to have to face anything as dangerous as combat, but still, I quickly found I needed to be able to adapt.

During the first few weeks of civilian life, I really enjoyed my new freedoms and slept in, not worried about maintaining any sort of daily routine. I had spent years waking at the crack of dawn, working out daily. Physical fitness was part of the routine and tied to my ability to do my job as a leader. Once I took my uniform off for the last time, I realized my routine was whatever I wanted it to be.

While I enjoyed the routine of not having a routine during those first few weeks, I eventually began missing more and more physical fitness workouts. This had a largely unexpected, negative impact on my mood and the amount of positive energy I had starting off each day. As I reflected on this, I realized how in the Army physical fitness had a positive effect on my mood and helped me feel better prepared to take on the challenges of the day. Once I had this realization, I knew I had to adapt and take a design thinking approach to "redesigning" my daily experience now that I was a civilian.

I have lots of experience helping others figure out what they need to do to be successful. In addition to my day job, I run my own leadership development firm and have led design thinking workshops for several different clients since I transitioned from the Army. However, this was the first time I ever designed an experience for myself. I started out by doing a journey map, which is a process of gaining empathy of a user’s experience. In this case I was using it to gain understanding of my own daily experience. I created a timeline and charted my moods throughout the day for a week. The journey map showed me that on days I worked out in the morning I had a positive energy that stayed with me throughout the day. On days where I did not workout, my mood was not as positive.

The CRUSH IT Journey Map

Seeing this data displayed visually on a journey map was eye opening to me. I have always known physical fitness was important, but I never really saw the connection to my daily mood and positive energy flow. By gaining an understanding of myself, I was able to define the problem, ideate,come up with a “prototype” daily routine, and test it. I am in my third iteration now, but I’m happy to report that I am fueled daily by a positive energy and regularly looking at how to raise the level of energy in myself and others. 

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Jonathan, the 300 K Man, is an experienced leader and coach with a proven record of leading and developing others to perform at higher levels and improve their overall effectiveness. He has a passion for learning and developing others to improve as leaders. Jonathan brings lessons from over 25 years of experience leading in U.S. Army Infantry, Cavalry, and Armor units in a wide range of assignments, to include leading soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. He is a decorated veteran and a recipient of the General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award. Jonathan served as a faculty member at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY before transitioning from the Army in 2015. He is a certified Executive Coach and operates his own leadership coaching business:


  1. This is a great use of design thinking. Stanford does a class on remimagining your life to get students to think about their life's passion. This is super useful! Thanks Jonathan!