A book review by Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes

I first tripped across this career guide while I was mentoring a high school student. Like many of us at that age, she had little idea what she wanted to do when she ‘grew up’, but was under parental pressure to excel at school and pursue a profession. I sent her a copy – but I kept one for myself.  The other week, the Teenager in our house went to a careers evening at school, and that prompted me to pull my copy out again.

The basics

The book is 90 A5 pages long. Given it’s presented as manga, the Japanese style of black and white comic, it’s short enough to hold the attention of a modern teen, or be read on the commute to work. The book’s hero is Johnny Bunko, an unhappy accounting intern at a big company, who, on one particularly miserable day, meets a career advisor. Her name is Diana, and she can be summoned by snapping open disposable wooden chopsticks. Did I mention she’s a sort of genie? As Johnny stumbles along his career path and occasionally blunders, Diana appears. Over the course of the book, she gives him six vital lessons for thriving in the world of work.

For any age

The thing I like about this book is that its advice is useful at any stage of life. For those starting out,  it gives a frame of reference they don’t teach in schools, wrapped up in a simple story. For those of us a little older, it’s a useful reminder of what matters. Its advice can help us choose more wisely between projects and opportunities, as much as between careers. And for that matter, some of its advice can give managers useful prompts for getting the best out of their direct reports, too.

Positive psychology

The reason Johnny Bunko’s career advice is for all is that it’s firmly grounded in research from the field of positive pschology, and the book even directly references Martin Seligman, who is often referred to as the father of this field of psychology. Positve psychology is something we’ve covered extensively over the years here at Professionelle. It focuses on what makes humans flourish in their lives rather than the traditional psychology approach of patching up what’s broken.

For example, one of Diana’s lessons is:

Think Strengths, not Weaknesses

reflecting research that successful people capitalise on what they’re good at, rather than forcing themselves to improve on what they’re bad at.  I had to laugh when Johnny replies, “They sure didn’t get that memo around here. I feel like they’re always trying to fix me.” Ah yes, areas for development, anyone?!

The Author

The text is by Daniel Pink who you may know as the New York Times bestselling author of “A Whole New Mind” and “Drive”, and whose TED talk on Motivation is one of the channel’s most watched talks. Johnny Bunko seems to owe its unique format to a Japan Society Media Fellowship that Pink won in 2007; it took him to Tokyo to study the manga industry – apparently manga in Japan is read by all ages, across topics ranging from comedy to commerce.

The Teenager’s verdict

Of course I asked our Teenager for an opinion on the book and this is what I received:

I found it interesting in the way it turned a career guide into a visual story through which each lesson and tip could be understood. Most career guides that I’ve glimpsed in my teenage years seem to be much like reading the Road Code: “here are the facts, this is how you do it, don’t do this or you’ll crash and burn, end of story”. And, of course, they lack this feature of a story to begin with.

This comic based tale instead shows us the result of doing things ‘wrong,’ and, rather than simply being told how to do things, it brought out some sympathy, or perhaps empathy, with the main character. Whether or not the lessons in the story have any merit to them is another matter. Reading through it, as interesting as the story was  in comparison to most career guides, I still cannot help but think that it’s just another career guide that probably won’t be relevant to my future.

Why? Because there are so many career guides out there, all telling you they have the “simple, secret key.” And maybe this guide is scientifically backed up, but it feels like a repeat of something that’s already been tried.

Ah well, teenagers are hard to please…and convinced they are unique.

The last guide

Pink’s subtitle for his book is “The last career guide you’ll ever need”. That’s definitely an overstatement, but if this easily-absorbed book can raise new questions in young minds – and refresh past lessons in older ones – then I believe it’s worth taking a look at.

If you’d like to find out more for yourself, you can buy “The Adventures of Johnny Bunko” on Amazon, where it is extensively and positively reviewed.

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