The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need – Daniel H. Pink
Why should you read this?
You go to work everyday and you don’t hate it but you don’t love it, you just keep going not sure what to do next. You are just leaving university and you can’t find that “dream job” that you are supposed to have by now. You see other people doing better in their career than you even though you are much harder working and much more talented than them!
What’s it about?
This book has 6 handy tips on how to do plan your career and is delivered in a manga-style format allowing you, the reader, to gain a lot of information incredibly quickly and also enjoy the content. I’d most recommend this book to new graduates (like myself), but it could appeal to people who are older and want a boost to their career.
The story starts with a pretty average guy, he works pretty hard at a pretty average office job and is doing pretty well, not amazing, but he isn’t a total failure either. One day he stumbles across a wise fairy (I don’t remember if she is actually referred to as a fair in the book), called Diana, who can explain how the working world works so Johnny can get set on his career. It sounds pretty stupid when I say it like that, but it is genuinely a fantastic book. It’s a short read and has some clear, sharp insights into how to do well in any career. This book isn’t about choosing the career for you, there are no career quizzes or suggested career paths, it just allows anyone to do better at the job they already have or will have soon.
Lesson 1 : There is no plan
This sounds like the opposite of what most sensible people would tell you. How can you not have a plan? You can’t just show up to work and flop around can you? Well no, but the idea that there is no grand plan does actually hold merit.
As Diana explains, the future is too messy to plan in detail, so if you make an incredible plan it won’t go as you expect, as the future is too hard to predict. She says there are two reasons for undertaking a project:
Instrumental reasons – These involve doing something because you believe it will lead to something better, regardless of how much you enjoy it. This thinking is flawed as you don’t know what the future holds for you and it’s hard to stay motivated when you don’t actually care about the work. Diana is against instrumental reasons!
Fundamental reasons – Diana’s preferred reasoning. This involves doing work you find genuinely interesting regardless of what the results could be. This is better as you are more likely to do well at it and being good at something is more useful than something you think might be useful one day.
I followed this advice by telling my boss every time I enjoyed a particular type of project, she can’t only give me those types of project, but she does take it into account, which I appreciate and as a result do better work, so we’re both happy.
Lesson 2: Think Strengths not Weaknesses
Traditional logic says that you should work on patching all your weaknesses. When you have a performance review, you can easily pick things that need improving, that way you will be able to make sure you are pretty good at everything, or at least don’t suck at anything.
Diana disagrees! Research has shown that the most successful people realise what they are good and get even better at those things. It is better to be amazing at something and have weaknesses than to be okay at everything but not have anything you excel at. Simple.
My first performance review was before I had read this book, so I chose some skills I needed to improve like time management and communicating with stakeholders, which were weak points for me. I did get better at them to be fair, but I wasn’t blowing anyone away. My next targets came after I read this book, so I decided to think about my strengths, I was good at problem-solving and mentoring, but I wanted to be even better, so these were my focus and as a result I am solving larger problems than before, creating more value and I am able to help more junior members of my team to excel themselves, which I find enormously satisfying.
Lesson 3: It’s not about you
Most successful people focused on how they could improve the lives of others, rather than focusing on how the world could improve their own life. Microsoft created software that allowed everybody to have a computer. Airbnb found a way to let some people make a bit of extra money and other people to find cheap places to stay in new areas of town, countries or states. The list goes on, Diana says to focus on how you can improve other people’s lives, the world doesn’t owe you anything!
I haven’t started my own business or found a way to save the world, but there is a lot of customer service in my job and when I started focusing on how I could improve the lives of my customers, rather than how I could get them to leave me alone, I started delivering a much better service and the customers noticed and appreciated it. I even started to look forward to seeing certain customers, as we had built a friendly rapport, in part thanks to my new attitude.
Lesson 4: Persistence beats talent
If a talented person has say 100 points of goodness at a skill but never practices they will always have 100 points. If you have 50 points but every week you gain one point, in a year you will have 102 points and actually be better than the talented person who never improved and that’s after just one year, most people work much more than one year in their life. This is actually how practice works, it’s like compound interest, you keep getting better and better. The better you get, the harder you try, the better you get, the … you get it.
Outside motivators like money, fame and praise don’t work to keep a person motivated for long, eventually it won’t be enough to motivate you and you will become dissatisfied with work and life. Instead you need to motivate yourself. If you can motivate yourself, you can keep going regardless of how much money, fame or praise you get or don’t manage to get. But, chances are, the better you are the more money and outside rewards you will get as a by-product, so it’s a win-win.
I used to believe that some people were just smarter than others, so when I realised I wasn’t the smartest person in the world, I was quite miffed. Luckily, this book promoted persistence and I had also heard about Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck’s brainchild), so I eventually realised we can grow and become better at any time. We aren’t stuck how we were born. As a result I try to get better at something everyday, it’s not always directly clear how each thing I learn helps, but the learning is fun in and of itself. Once you start to learn for fun instead of to pass exams, it becomes incredibly satisfying, I learn more in a week now than I did in a month in education.
Lesson 5: Make excellent mistakes
Sometimes, it feels like the best way to succeed is to be perfect, to never make a mistake, have a spotless record, so no one can point to a mistake and say “this is why you suck”, but living in fear will stop you ever doing anything great. Instead is better to aim BIG, make mistakes and learn from them. Steve Jobs made plenty of mistakes in his career, he even got kicked out of his own company (temporarily), but no one can say he wasn’t successful. It happened after his death, but Apple was the first company to be worth a trillion dollars and Apple has thousands of successful products.
Diana says to not be too scared about what could go wrong, instead aim big, do something no one has done before, it could be a completely wrong and backfire, but it could also be amazing.
Hopefully this blog is my excellent project, only time will tell if it becomes an excellent mistake or an excellent success, feel free to tell me!
Lesson 6: Leave an imprint
Starting a new job, new school or new club can be scary, better not ruffle any feathers or draw any attention to yourself, right?
WRONG! Diana says to leave an impression, let something be different because you were there. Change something at your job, in a club you attend or even in your local community. It doesn’t have to be life-changing or huge, but make something different. At my job I changed something that was arguably pointless, but was massively proud that I had made a change:
- I didn’t like people eating at their desks (I still don’t), I think we work enough and breaks are sacred, so I started a lunch club to get people socialising at lunch. HR loved it and it was a great way for new starters to have lunch without feeling like they were disturbing a “clique”.
There are many more ways to make an imprint in your career, my lunch club didn’t even have anything to do with doing my job well, but I was so proud when someone who worked in a different office to me, told me that my lunch club got people out of their cars, off their desks and having lunch as a group, enjoying each others company instead. There are so many ways to make an impact at the place you work, it’s more traditional to do so with the quality of your work, but what will you do to leave an imprint?
For a much better explanation of the above principles see the original material by following the link at the top of this page.