About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

#24 - The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

And now, for something completely different: The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need, a graphic (read: manga) book by Daniel H. Pink (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008).

Summary: "Meet Johnny Bunko. He's probably a lot like you. He did what everybody -- parents, teachers, counselors -- told him to do. But now, stuck at a dead-end job, he's begun to suspect that what he thought he knew is just plain wrong. One bizarre night, Johnny meets Diana, the unlikeliest career advisor he's ever seen. Part Cameron Diaz, part Barbara Eden, she reveals to Johnny the six essential lessons for thriving in the world of work."

My take: A quick, entertaining read -- I think I knocked it off in half an hour -- and a good conversation-starter, but calling it "the last career guide you'll ever need" is overreaching a bit.

When we first meet Johnny, he's a stressed-out, not particularly talented accounting drone at the Boggs Corporation. Imagine his surprise when, after picking up take-out from a nearby noodle stand for yet another late night at work, he snaps his chopsticks apart and BLAM! Suddenly, there's a mysterious sprite who calls herself Diana hovering before his eyes. She promises to tell him the secrets of succeeding in the world of work, but there's a catch: he only has six pairs of chopsticks, and once he's used them up, she's done. For each set of chopsticks and each apparition, she reveals one lesson:
  1. There is no plan. As Diana explains,

    1. "You can't sit there at age 21 -- or even 31 or 41 or 51 -- and map it all out. You may think that X will lead to Y, and Y will lead to Z ... but it never works that way. ... Life isn't an algebra problem. Well, actually, it's like an algebra problem painted by Salvador Dali. X might lead to W and W might lead to the color blue. And the color blue might lead to a chicken quesadilla. ... It's nice to believe that you can map out every step ahead of time and end up where you want. But that's a fantasy. The world changes. Ten years from now, your job might be in India. Your industry might not even exist. And you'll change, too. You might discover a hidden talent. You might fall in love and move to Tahiti. ... You need to make smart choices. But you can make career decisions for two different types of reasons. You can do something for instrumental reasons -- because you think it's going to lead to something else, regardless of whether you enjoy it or it's worthwhile ... or you can do something for fundamental reasons -- because you think it's inherently valuable, regardless of what it may or may not lead to. The dirty little secret is that instrumental reasons usually don't work. Things are too complicated, too unpredictable. You never know what's going to happen. So you end up stuck. The most successful people -- not all of the time, but most of the time -- make decisions for fundamental reasons. ... They're not fools. They're enlightened pragmatists."

  2. Think strengths, not weaknesses. "The key to success is to steer around your weaknesses and focus on your strengths. Successful people don't try too hard to improve what they're bad at. They capitalize on what they're good at."
  3. It's not about you. "It's about your customer. It's about your client. Use your strengths, yes, but remember ... you're here to serve -- not to self-actualize. ... Of course you matter. But the most successful people improve their own lives by improving others' lives. They help their customer solve its problem. They give their client something it didn't know it was missing. That's where they focus their energy, talent, and brainpower. Outward, not inward."
  4. Persistence trumps talent. "What's the most powerful force in the universe? ... Compound interest. ... It builds on itself. Over time, a small amount of money becomes a large amount of money. Persistence is similar. A little bit improves performance, which encourages greater persistence, which improves performance even more. And on and on it goes. Lack of persistence works the same way -- only in the opposite direction. ... The world is littered with talented people who didn't persist, who didn't put in the hours, who gave up too early, who thought they could ride on talent alone. Meanwhile, people who might have less talent pass them by. ... That's why intrinsic motivation is so important. ... The more intrinsic motivation you have, the more likely you are to persist. The more you persist, the more likely you are to succeed."
  5. Make excellent mistakes. "Too many people spend their time avoiding mistakes. They're so concerned about being wrong, about messing up, that they never try anything -- which means they never do anything. Their focus is avoiding failure, but that's actually a crummy way to achieve success. The most successful people make spectacular mistakes -- huge, honking screwups. Why? They're trying to do something big. But each time they make a little mistake, they get a little better and move a little closer to excellence."
  6. Leave an imprint. "Those other five lessons are crucial. But truly successful people deploy them in the service of something larger than themselves. They leave their companies, their communities, their families a little better than before. This isn't just career advice, buys. In some ways, this is what it means to be alive."
Over the next few weeks, as Johnny heeds Diana's advice, he finds himself on special assignment to the marketing department, and then tasked with coming up with a fundamentally new concept for Bogg's newest client, a shoe company.

Though I didn't exactly find it life-changing, I did enjoy the book -- and to its credit, the manga format does make it considerably quicker and less pretentious than many of the "how to succeed in business" fad books du jour that I've encountered. I'll be interested to see if this one takes off in a big way.

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