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The Adventures of Johnny Bunko - The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need: Book Review

I read Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind earlier in the year but I hadn’t heard of The Adventures of Johnny Bunko until my colleague Sumeet Moghe mentioned it in a conversation during ThoughtWorks India’s XConf, an internal conference run here.

The book is written in the Manga format so it’s incredibly quick to read and it gives 6 ideas around building a career.

I’m generally not a fan of the idea of ‘building a career’ - generally when I hear that phrase it involves having a ‘five year’ plan and other such concepts which I consider to be pointless.

I much prefer to just focus on what I’m most interested in at the moment and then have the flexibility to be able to focus on something else if that interests me more.

Luckily this book is not at all like that and these are the ideas Dan Pink suggests:

There is no plan

The most interesting part of this piece of advice is Pink’s suggestion that when we make career decisions we make them for two different types of reasons:

I think this pretty much makes sense - it’s very difficult to predict what’s going to happen so you might as well make sure you’re doing what you want at any given time.

Think strengths not weaknesses

Marcus Buckingham has several books on this subject but the general idea is that we should look to focus on things that we’re good at or are really motivated to become good at.

By inference this means that we want to avoid spending time on things that we’re not good at and/or not interested in becoming good at.

I recently came across a blog post written by Robbie Maciver where he suggests that we can use a retrospective to help us identify team member’s strengths and work out how best to utilise them.

I think there’s sometimes a reluctance for people to volunteer their strengths so we end up with people working on tasks that they hate that other people in the same team would enjoy.

It's not about you

Pink then goes on to point out that even if we do work out how to play to our strengths we still need to ensure that we’re focusing on our customer/client.

Pink calls this focusing outward not inward.

In terms of working in technology consulting that would therefore be along the lines of ensuring that we’re focused on solving our clients’ problems in the best way for them rather than the most interesting way for us.

Persistence trumps talent

This idea has been covered in several books including Outliers, Talent is Overrated and The Talent Code.

The underlying idea is that people aren’t born brilliant at any skill, it only comes through practice and if we’re intrinsically motivated to do something then we’re much more likely to put in the time it requires to become really good.

To add to that I think intrinsic motivation is highest when we’re focusing on our strengths so this piece of advice is linked with the earlier one.

Make excellent mistakes

Pink talks about making excellent mistakes which he describes as ‘mistakes that come from having high aspirations, from trying to do something nobody else has done’.

I think this is somewhat linked to the idea of failing fast although it seems to be perhaps one level beyond that.

Sumeet gave a talk at XConf where he described the new approach to ThoughtWorks University and pointed out that one of the most important goals was to allow attendees to make ‘excellent mistakes’

One observation I have here is that smaller companies seems more willing to make excellent mistakes. As organisations grow the aversion to risk because of worries about loss of reputation increases which makes excellent mistakes less likely.

I find Eric Ries’ lean startup ideas particularly interesting with respect to failing fast and my former colleague Antonio Terreno recently linked to a video where the General Manager of Forward 3D explains how they do this.

Leave an imprint

Pink talks about the importance of doing work which actually has some meaning or leaves the world in a better place than it was before.

This is probably the one that I can relate to least. I’m writing software which is what I’m passionate about but I wouldn’t say the problems I work on are having much impact on the world.

This one therefore leaves me with the most to think about.

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