Dan Pink is one of my favorite storytellers. One of the characteristics I most admire in him is his curiosity. In addition to being an engaging writer whose clear and simple style conveys the full power of action, he is a very likeable and generous individual.
After meeting many years ago via my involvement with the Fast Company community, I had the good fortune of hosting two events for Dan Pink in Philadelphia - one about what is still the best book written on the the future of working for yourself, Free Agent Nation; the other about moving from the information age to the conceptual age, A Whole New Mind.
Now Pink is dispensing career advice with a comic book - Johnny Bunko. We had a conversation recently about the differences between job search and career management. This is how I see it:
- Job search can be seen as temporary, frustrating, subject to the highs and lows of energy we all experience and to the vagaries of the marketplace on which we feel we have no control. We see a job search as totally focused on the immediate need.
- Career management is the ongoing discipline of developing relationships (inside and outside your industry, company, and line of work), learning new skills, sharing contacts and information freely, mapping out your options at any point in time, and taking control of your destiny. We see a career as an active pursuit that can open new possibilities for us.
With all this in mind, a career is something we all manage continuously, no matter the level or title we achieve. Do you think CEOs are immune? Think again. I met David Pottruck at a Wharton Leadership Forum a couple of years ago. Pottruck was the CEO of Charles Schwab until he lost it all and got his identity back as he dealt with the blow. "I slept like a baby," he shared at the event, "I woke up every two hours crying." There are many lessons in his story.
Johnny Bunko also learns many lessons about his career thanks to a supernatural career adviser and a series of situations he encounters at work. I sat down at the keyboard with Dan Pink to talk about his new project.
You wrote Johnny Bunko in Manga, which is a form of literature, fiction and fantasy on the rise especially in Japan. Do you think this form will become pervasive in relaying business ideas?
Dan: I hope so! Graphic novels in general, and manga in particular, are incredibly efficient and expressive ways to convey ideas. Since people are so strapped for time these days -- and since so much raw information is available on the internet -- there's a premium on books people can read and absorb quickly. That doesn't mean dumbing things down. No way. It simply means telling stories and making arguments in more inventive ways.
How popular is Manga in Japan? Why?
Dan: Manga is insanely popular in Japan -- in some sense, it's as popular and wide-ranging as television is here. You can buy manga titles for just about any topic -- not just love stories and ninja tales, but also manga for time management, manga on political topics, manga history, manga financial guides, and so on. In Japan, 22 percent of all printed material is in this comic form. Amazing.
Are you saying that the anatomy of a business book is changing? How?
Dan: Yes. Take career books. People today get their tactical career information online. If they want to know what keywords to put in a resume or what a company does, they go to Google. That means that books can no longer deliver only this kind of tactical material. It becomes outdated before the book reaches store shelves. What books can do, though, is offer strategic information -- big picture advice. That's what I'm trying to do here. Plus, most business books are too long. Not JOHNNY BUNKO. You can read it in an hour. This is a career advice manual for just about anyone who wants to find a better direction.
Do you expect that it will be job seekers to purchase the book?
Dan: Maybe. The book is keyed around six broad lessons about work that I wish I'd known 25 years ago. I think these lessons are always valuable to remember. But I think they're especially clarifying for people who are at career inflection points -- whether they're just starting out in the workforce or whether they're seeking (or forced) to make a change.
In reading the book it occurred to me that the advice may seem simple, yet the dynamics between the characters and the ideas put forth as the story comes to life can be a challenge for someone who goes through them. Do you think that the presentation and format will help readers figure out all those connections better?
Dan: Again, I hope so. This is story -- a quick, zippy tale you can read in an hour. I think it's precisely because of those qualities that the lessons will stick with readers for a long time. We keep hearing about a shortage of talent. I'd argue that that shortage shows at every level, all the way to the top gun in companies.
Many organizations, especially agencies, plan to hire young talent they can groom (hopefully). What lessons are there in this book for people who are interested in hiring and keeping great talent?
Dan: There are lessons on both sides of the fence. These lessons apply with equal force to recruiters as to other professions. So I think those looking for talent could apply these principles and do better at their work. In addition, the more companies honor the values inherent in these lessons, the better off they will be. Places that allow folks to "Think strengths, not weaknesses" or to "Make excellent mistakes" or to "Leave an imprint" are places that are going to attract the best talent.
Thank you, Dan. What about you? Do you take the time to think about what you have done and what you could have done better? Do you have a career management strategy? For companies - how are you going to address ways to attract the best talent?