Manga Book Provides Graphic Career Lessons

Published: October 09, 2008 in Knowledge@Emory

Author Daniel H. Pink’s latest book titled The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need details the struggles of a young exec as he works to find job satisfaction and move up the corporate ladder. Unlike other career guides, this latest offering is done as a manga comic, with Pink noting that he wanted to use this “incredibly powerful expressive form to reinvent the business book.” In a recent interview with Knowledge@Emory, Pink, bestselling author of A Whole Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future and Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself, talks about his novel approach and what it takes to get ahead today.


Knowledge@Emory: In The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need, you focus on the best-kept secrets in career advancement. But unlike most other traditional business guidebooks, you chose to produce a manga book on the subject. Why did you use this Japanese comic form for this sort of text, especially considering how conservative most business books tend to be?

Daniel H. 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 America have very different places in people’s lives. In Japan, comics are ubiquitous. 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 all ages or on topics besides ninjas and high school romance. 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 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. And manga was the perfect medium for that. 

Knowledge@Emory: In the book, Johnny Bunko is guided by a magical being named Diana. She offers him advice to get him out of the career slump. Diana tells him six key points of advice—advice to help him climb the career ladder and find fulfillment in his professional life. Her first bit of advice comes as quite a surprise to Johnny and probably to the reader, as she notes that “there is no plan” for career advancement. Johnny is quite the workaholic, sitting up and doing all-nighters on the job. He’s taken the safe path dictated to him by his father and his college counselors. Why is this bit of advice about there being no set path so difficult for most people to understand, and can you elaborate on what you mean?

Daniel H. Pink: People can make career decisions for two kinds of reasons: instrumental reasons and fundamental reasons. Instrumental reasons are doing something because it’s going to lead to something else. For instance, you major in a subject not because you’re interested in it, but because you think it will land you a job after graduation. Fundamental decisions are doing something for the sake of doing it. For example, you take a job at a company because the work is interesting and the people are great—even if you don’t know where the job is going to lead. 

The dirty little secret that Johnny learns in the book is that instrumental reasons don’t work. The world is too complicated to game. I don’t have any moral beef against instrumental reasoning. I just think it’s a bad strategy—that it doesn’t work. The people who really flourish are those who make decisions for fundamental reasons. They do what turns them on—and live with the ambiguity of not knowing what’s going to happen next.  

Knowledge@Emory: Another bit of advice to Johnny Bunko is that “it’s not about you.” That statement is probably hard—especially for over-achievers bent on career advancement—to grasp. As you center on the task, and especially when things are going in your favor at work, how can you stay focused on the idea that “the most valuable people in any job bring out the best in others?”

Daniel H. Pink: For business people and business students, the "it’s not about you" lesson has to do with keeping the focus on the customer and the client. In my experience, that’s an idea that many young people have not absorbed. And, of course, there are huge gains—both psychic and professional—in helping other people flourish. It’s not a zero-sum game. If your teammate succeeds, it doesn’t mean that you lose. 

Knowledge@Emory: Of the six key points noted, another one that is probably hard to follow is that Johnny is advised to “make excellent mistakes.” Aren’t most people fearful of taking big risks, even when the payoff is there? How can you get over the fear?

Daniel H. Pink: Sure. It’s natural to be fearful of mistakes. But let’s look at it in a more hardheaded way. Just about anybody who’s done anything worthwhile has failed along the way. Musicians have played the wrong notes. Athletes have struck out or fumbled the ball. Failure is an inevitable stop on the path to mastery. If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t get anywhere.

What’s more, in business, I think we’re plagued by what Tom Peters calls “mediocre successes.” There’s way too much stuff that’s just fine, not bad, or pretty good. But the things that really change the world go way beyond that. But it’s hard to reach that level without messing up along the way. Remember: Apple, the company that did the iPod, also did the Newton. The key is to make good mistakes—mistakes that come from trying something big and aspiring high. 

Knowledge@Emory: The last point you make is that people should remember to “leave an imprint.” And, along those lines, you mention that we need to understand that our life is not infinite and that we should “do something that matters.” Specifically, professional life is inextricably linked to how we choose to live our lives in total. You suggest in the book that we should leave our companies, communities, and families a little better off than before. Given the bevy of corporate scandals, issues of predatory lending practices, and the unhappy work environment that many employees note—how did we get so off base? And what can business schools and companies do to correct the trend?

Daniel H. Pink: I think the desire to leave an imprint is a fundamental human yearning. Perhaps we got off kilter by forgetting that. But the very best businesses and most influential entrepreneurs have always proceeded that way. Apple, to cite that company again, talks about “putting a dent in the universe.” In my view, business schools would do well to recognize that deep-seated human impulse and explain to students why creating amazing products, services, and experiences that make people’s lives better is a noble way to leave an imprint. 

Knowledge@Emory: Was Johnny Bunko’s experience similar to your own at some point in your career—stuck in what he sees as a dead end and thankless position?

Daniel H. Pink: A little. I’ve had jobs I didn’t like and took paths that I now regret. But once I realized there was no plan, I was fine.

Knowledge@Emory: Given the chance to see your work come to life as a manga effort, what does it feel like to have a manga version of yourself on the back of the book?

Daniel H. Pink: I thought it was cool, actually. I even use it on my Facebook profile.

Knowledge@Emory: What can fans of your business books expect from you in the near future?

Daniel H. Pink: I’m working on a book—the kind with sentences and paragraphs and very few pictures—about the science and economics of human motivation. I also think there's a good chance we'll see more of Johnny’s adventures.

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