Updated on 07.14.09

Review: The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

Trent Hamm

Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a career, personal productivity, personal development, or entrepreneurship book of interest.

johnny bunkoWithout really paying attention, I picked up Daniel Pink’s book The Adventures of Johnny Bunko at the library. I just glanced at the cover, noting the subtitle (“The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need”) and that it was written by an author I like, and checked it out.

I got it home, opened it up, and found I was in for a surprise. The book is actually a manga – a short graphic novel drawn in the black-and-white Japanese style.

At first, I didn’t know what to think, but after reading it, I realize that this style was a brilliant choice. It takes the relatively mundane topic of careers and presents it in an entertaining and unusual fashion, one that’s particularly relevant to a younger audience (yes, I was a huge manga fan in my college days).

But is the advice worthwhile? Instead of destroying the rather fun plot of The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, I’m just going to delve a bit into the six big points the book presents for career management.

There Is No Plan
There’s a lot of talk out there about “career planning” – deciding in high school and college where you want to go with your life. In my opinion, most of that talk is bunk. By the time you get through your college career, the world will have changed. By the time you’re ten years into your professional career, the world will have drastically changed again.

You’re quite likely to find yourself, ten years from now, in a career path you couldn’t have possibly considered today. Five years ago, if you had told me I would be living as a personal finance writer, I would have laughed at you. But look what happened.

Don’t spend all your time planning out what you’ll be doing in your career in ten years. It’s hard to predict that. Instead, focus on the now and the skills and relationships you can build that will serve you no matter where your path leads you.

Think Strengths, Not Weaknesses
People hire based on strengths, not weaknesses. People become rich because of their strengths, not because they balanced out their weaknesses.

Everyone has a few natural talents and passions. The people that really succeed are the people that figure out those passions and talents and hone them while finding ways to minimize their weaknesses. This runs completely counter to the idea that if you have a glaring weakness, you need to work on it and improve it.

If you know you have a weakness, the best thing you can do is to find ways to have that weakness affect you as little as possible. Investing significant time in improving that weakness is a fool’s errand – it’s time that you’re not accentuating the positive.

It’s Not About You
The people who rise to the top are the people who offer value to others, not people who take the value of others and contribute nothing.

Are you useful to your organization? Are you useful to your peers? Are you useful to the community as a whole? If you are, you have value. If you’re not – if all you do is gobble up time and resources – you don’t have much value in your career.

Look at the things you do through this lens. Is this activity leading to some sort of value for the organization or for others or for yourself without taking as much value away? If it’s not, you’re treading on dangerous ground.

Persistence Trumps Talent
The person that tries and fails then gets back up and tries again is usually in a better place than the person who succeeds right off the bat. Why? They’ve picked up lots of little intrinsic skills along the way and they’ve learned that it’s okay to fail.

In other words, passion trumps talent. If you love something enough that you’re going to keep at it even after failing over and over again, you’re going to succeed over the long run. Each failure will teach you something, and that passion will keep you moving forward.

Talent alone won’t do that. Unless you’re truly the best in the world, eventually you will fail if you ride on nothing but talent – and you won’t have the skills or the drive to pick yourself up again.

Make Excellent Mistakes
If you’re going to make a mistake, make it in a way that shows off positive traits as well. In fact, this is often better than making no mistakes at all, because it makes you human.

Don’t be afraid to step up to the plate for fear of failure. Instead, throw everything you have at it and see what happens. Sure, you might fail – but if you’ve thrown your drive and talent at it, you’ll show some very positive things in the failure.

The person who succeeds is the person willing to take a risk and the person willing to fail.

Leave an Imprint
Your actions should always leave a mark on what you’re doing. If you’re working on something over a long period and your contributions can’t clearly be seen, what difference does it make if you were never there at all?

You make a mark by putting forth extra effort. You make a mark by adding your own angle to a project. You make a mark by standing up when everyone else is sitting down. You make a mark by loving what you do.

You don’t make a mark by just following along all the time.

Is The Adventures of Johnny Bunko Worth Reading?
The Adventures of Johnny Bunko is an absolutely brilliant graduation gift, in my opinion. It shares some big, powerful ideas about careers in a format that’s very readable and attractive to people who might not want to sit down and absorb a three hundred page career tome.

If you want depth, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko is probably not the best choice. It’s light, fun, and brings only a few big ideas to the table. To its credit, though, it explains those ideas in a very enjoyable way.

I intend on giving two copies of this away for graduation gifts in the next twelve months.

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  1. Manshu says:

    Too many people are reluctant to change fields because that is not what they majored in or they feel that their earlier education will go waste if they take up some other role.

    The world is changing and whatever you learned is a good foundation to build your future upon, nothing to cling upon in the hopes of doing that forever.

  2. It’s not about you is a powerful lesson I learned the hard way. I was persistent in my desire to break into the international field for the company I worked in & when I finally had an opportunity to sit down to chat with my manager I went on a spiel about how this position was perfect for me, how I love to travel, how I this & I that.

    About 2 minutes into my monologue he stopped me. He asked if he could give me some advice, and of course I said he could. His advice was simple, “Its not about you. It is about how you can benefit the company, not how we can benefit you.”

    I didn’t get the position.

  3. Noadi says:

    10 years ago or even 5 years ago I wouldn’t have believed I’d have my own business making jewelry and sculpting. It wasn’t anything even on my radar.

  4. FINACE says:

    It is a difficult process to change field not that it is hard but it is time consuming and you dont no if it will work

  5. Carl Nielson says:

    Trent and others reading this,
    I absolutely enjoyed and appreciated your summary of the book’s lessons. Great job and service to people. I’m sharing your post with my student clients (program called Career Coaching for Students).

    I hear so many adults who say “10 years ago I never would have guessed I’d be doing…”. Your belief and that of so many people is that it is impossible to “identify” your talent, passion and calling. Your belief is that you have to “find it” on your own.

    The level of sophistication in “some”assessments (validity and relability) as well as the level of sophisticated knowledge that “some” career coaches now possess makes “discovering” much easir. You may still need to take 10 years to gain enough experience to be successful in your own business but knowing where you are going makes the journey much more enjoyable and much more successful. Most successful people will tell you they knew what they wanted to do, set goals to get there and then executed with relative precision toward those goals.

    The lessons you pulled from the book are all very good advice.

    Carl Nielson
    Chief Discovery Officer
    Success Discoveries

  6. Carl Nielson says:

    One last thought here and I might be splitting hairs but I hope you enjoy the expansion of the idea,
    Persistence is equal to and required to work with talent. You have to have both persistence and talent. Here is my thought on that point:
    Persistence without talent: Continue until you either get the talent or self select out (the latter is most likely)
    Talent without persistence: A few might make it but most don’t.
    Talent with Persistence: A can’t lose scenario.

  7. Hmm, if you had told me that I would have gone into banking 10 years later, when I got out of college, I would have punched you, then waited till you woke up and punched you again…not really, but I would never have believed it as an idealist, anti-establishment (dare I say Pacifist?) college graduate. Funny how things work out.

    But now that I am working on implementing some of the universal truths that are also included in the Johnny Bunko book, I am re-developing my life plan. The key to that is the point above about it “Not being about you.” True joy comes from helping others as does true success.

    Additionally, I find the other critical key to be Persistence. So many people quit just prior to reaching the Acre of Diamonds. It really is true that persistence is rewarded.

    Trent is this actually a fictional novel? Or does the author use Manga to deliver non-fictional principles

  8. Joe L. says:

    Thanks Trent! These type of book will never make it to my country’s local library so what you are doing really helps!

    In life my basic philosophy is “be more valuable than you current are.”

    Taking a sip,

  9. Jacques says:

    Thanks for the review.

    I read this about a year ago when I was close to graduating from college, based on a recommendation by Tim Ferriss.

    Great stuff. I’m about to pull it off my book shelf and re-read.

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  11. Jon says:

    Pink’s other book is pretty good too.


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