OfficePolitics.com Interview with best-selling author Dan Pink
Franke James, OfficePolitics.com Editor, interviewed Dan Pink, author of The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. We also enlisted Johnny Bunko’s kick-ass-career-counselor, Diana, to bestow her wisdom on an Office-Politics reader’s dilemma. Read the letter here.
Franke James, OP: ‘The Adventures of Johnny Bunko’ trashes the ‘career guide’ as we’ve known it, and takes a brave leap forward into a whole new way of storytelling using Japanese-style Manga illustrations. Considering that you are the author of A Whole New Mind, your innovation should not come as any surprise, but it’s exciting to see how you’ve carved out a new identity for the business parable and resuscitated the career genre. You’ve really turned things upside down and had some fun (I predict many will follow your lead). I laughed watching your book trailer (featured above) as the narrator says, “In the 70’s and 80’s people asked ‘What Color is your Parachute?’ In the 90’s people asked, ‘Who Moved my Cheese?’ Now a new generation is asking new questions about their work and their lives. ‘WTF?’ This book has the answer…”
You’ve created a book that will speak to a new generation. I loved Johnny Bunko for its innovation, brashness and humor — but as the editor of a career advice site I was also delighted to see the clarity and wisdom too. You offer some great life advice that can help anyone (even older workers) find fulfilling work that uses their inner strengths and brings joy and challenge into their lives.
Franke James/OP: So my first question — Why did you decide to do a career guide — especially one in manga?
DAN PINK: It was a combination of factors.
First, I spent two months last year in Japan studying the manga industry. One of the things you quickly discover is that comics in Japan and comics in American have very different places in people’s lives. In Japan, comics are ubquitous. You can find manga for just about every topic — from time management to politics to history to investing. Meanwhile, manga was becoming extremely popular here in America. But we still thought of it as a kids’ medium. Nobody was creating it for people over seventeen. So I thought: Why not use this incredibly powerful expressive form to reinvent the business book?
Second, I began to think about the role of books in general in a world where people have so many other avenues to information. For career information in particular, it seemed that all the tactical information was available for free online. Putting that sort of info into a printed book didn’t make much sense. But I did think there was value to readers in creating books that offered the sort of insights that couldn’t be Googled — strategic, big picture advice. That’s what I tried to do with the six big lessons in the book.
Franke James/OP: In Johnny Bunko you outline six lessons: 1. There is no plan, 2. Think strengths, not weaknesses, 3. Persistence trumps talent, 4. It’s not about you, 5. Make excellent mistakes, 6. Leave an imprint.
Your advice ‘Think strengths, not weaknesses’ is in tune with the strengths trend popularized by people like Marcus Buckingham (whom you reference in your book for readers to find out more about). Having been raised by parents who always told me to develop my strengths, your advice really resonated with me. How does the advice you’re giving to readers compare to the advice your parents gave you? Who pointed you in the ‘right’ direction?
DAN PINK: I’m not sure anyone really pointed me. I mostly just tried to follow my curiosity and see where it took me. More than anything, though, I decided that since so many people could outsmart me, nobody would outwork me. That was part of the reason for the lesson on persistence trumping talent.
Franke James/OP: Many people would like to believe and trust in a career plan but you flatly state ‘There is no plan.’ Isn’t following your strengths a plan? Can you talk about the importance of inner motivations to drive a person’s career in the right direction?
DAN PINK: Sure. I’m all for people following their strengths. The point about planning was a bit different. Too many people make career decisions for instrumental reasons — because they think what they’re doing will lead to something else. Not enough people make decisions for fundamental reasons — because of the value of the activity itself. The dirty little secret is that instrumental reasons don’t work. It’s way too tumultuous out there. The people who really flourish are those who make decisions for fundamental reasons. They have to live with a certain amount of ambiguity about not knowing what’s going to happen next. But that keeps them alert to unexpected opportunities and the serendipity you talked about earlier.
Franke James/OP: I notice on your site that you ask readers to suggest the 7th missing lesson. Have you decided on that yet?
DAN PINK: We haven’t launched this yet. But we’re going to do something very cool in a big way in the next couple of months. Stay tuned.
Franke James/OP: As part of your book tour you are doing Bunko Breakfasts. (Although they are not always at breakfast time, which appealed to me.) What is the response? What has surprised you the most in the reactions?
DAN PINK: Well, I’m most surprised that people actually showed up! The reason I did this is that today authors might have the first word, but they definitely don’t have the last word. Interactions with readers have to be conversations — whether that’s on blogs, via email, on social networking sites, or even in person. The breakfasts have been a great way to meet readers, get their feedback, and hear their stories.
Franke James/OP: What’s your next way of leaving an imprint?
DAN PINK: I’m working on another book. And like all my books, my hope is that people will be informed, entertained, and that their lives will be a little bit better for having spent time with it.
Franke James/OP: Well, you’ve left a positive imprint with the Johnny Bunko book. It will reach a young audience at the most opportune time in their lives — and hopefully help them to have more successful and happier careers (but it’s never too late to discover your true purpose in life, so people on the far side of 35 should read it too). Thanks very much for agreeing to this interview! And especially for allowing Diana to provide her advice to an Office-Politics reader…
Read Diana’s kick-ass career letter for Office-Politics
Daniel H. Pink is the New York Times bestselling author of A WHOLE NEW MIND and FREE AGENT NATION. He lectures to corporations, associations, and universities around the world on economic transformation and the changing world of work. In 2007, he won a Japan Society Media Fellowship that took him to Tokyo to study the manga industry. Pink lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and their three children. Rob Ten Pas is the winner of TOKYOPOP’s annual Rising Stars of Manga competition. He received a B.A. from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and now lives and draws in Wisconsin.