I had a serendipitous encounter last week that, for me, expounded the value of this week’s article content. Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of sitting down for drinks with two new friends, Dan and Amanda. Dan and Amanda are just entering their final year of their respective undergraduate degrees and, like most soon-to-be-graduates, are looking forward to their launch into the “real world” with a healthy balance of excitement and trepidation. It’s a fascinating time of life, when 16 years of educational structure are suddenly replaced by a “fend for yourself and hope for the best” freedom.
Also last week, I enjoyed reading one of the most applicable and “real” career guides ever written; The Adventures ofJohnny Bunko. In it, Dan Pink shares some of the new rules and expectations for those new to the work world – the understanding that life is not a linear “graduate with good grades, get a job, get married, get a promotion, have kids, get a promotion, buy a house, get a promotion, buy a sports car, retire” process anymore (if it ever was). The rules have changed. Globalization and the incredible range of options we now enjoy have come with their own set of challenges and learning opportunities; opportunities that are, traditionally, not explored in our traditional education system.
And so, in honor of Dan, Amanda, and the countless others like them, I share with you the key learnings from The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. (Which is, incidentally, written as a Japanese-style comic book. As I mentioned, times have changed.)
Re-examining the Rules
"It’s nice to believe that you can map out every step ahead of time and end up where you want. But that’s a fantasy. The world changes. Ten years from now, your job might be in India. Your industry might not even exist."
The biggest lesson we can pull from The Adventures of Johnny Bunko is that it is now impossible to accurately chart your course for the future. If you’d taken the time in 1995 to try to predict what the world would look like today, I doubt anyone could have accurately predicted even a small percentage of the massive changes we would have gone through as a global community. And that’s just in the past 15 years. When a new graduate stands on the doorstep of the work world, they have, on average, forty years of work ahead of them. None of us know what the world will look like in 40 years, and anyone who tries to visualize a step-by-step career path for themselves is setting themselves up for failure.
Which is not to say, by any stretch, that we shouldn’t have goals. But the goal is more a visualization of where you want to be in 20, 30 or 40 years, and the values that you wish to be remembered for… not the exact route to get there. In a time of flux, such as we’re in, our values, long term objectives, and enjoyment of our current work is more important than ever.
Tell me why…
"You can do something for instrumental reasons – because you think it’s going to lead to something else, regardless of whether you enjoy it or it’s worthwhile… or you can do something for fundamental reasons – because you think it’s inherently valuable, regardless of what it may or may not lead to."
For many people, a job in the 40s, 50’s and 60s was a means to an end – a way to put food on the table, and a roof over their heads. As a society, we had many people pursuing jobs for instrumental reasons; that is, working towards a fixed retirement date or a proven promotion path. And, while it wasn’t ideal, that path was ok. When spending 30 years with one company was the norm, there was nothing wrong with planning your life around the stability of your relationship with your company. Simply put, it was easier to predict the future. But what about in a world where you can’t predict the future? Even looking out five years, the future is now laced with uncertainty. I would argue that it is important now, more than ever, that we pursue jobs and projects for fundamental reasons – for the inherent pleasure and satisfaction that we get from the work itself.
At first blush, I may be accused of being somewhat bohemian in that statement – of buying into the Gen-Y mentality of instant gratification. Certainly, work you enjoy is more rewarding short term. But, I would also argue, that it is work you are more committed to. More passionate about. The kind of work that you throw yourself into, and wouldn’t dream of cutting corners with. It’s the kind of work where you shine. And, of course, those who shine get noticed. Those who shine are asked to be a part of new projects and new, cutting edge ventures. Those who shine stay ahead of the curve.
In a world where the future is unknown, the long term success goes to those who are full of purpose, passion and a willingness to tackle the new.
The Right Kind of Mistake
"Too many people spend their time avoiding mistakes. They’re so concerned about being wrong, about messing up, that they never try anything – which means they never do anything."
So here’s the caveat to GEM #1 – If you’re going to throw yourself into projects you enjoy – projects that fundamentally motivate you – you’re going to make mistakes. It’s impossible to be passionately working at the front of the curve and not make mistakes. After all, you’re working in uncharted territory. The very nature of globalized talent and the intense competition that comes as a result is that the rewards, recognition and “success” in the 21st century goes not to those who execute flawlessly on something that’s been done before, but to those who innovate. And innovation means making mistakes. The important differentiator is what kind of mistakes you’re making. Careless errors, due to sloppy work or less than 100% commitment to the task will be punished swiftly. And rightly so – with 100 competitors lined up behind you, why would a company or client continue to rely on your ineptitude? Careless mistakes are unacceptable.
Mistakes born from innovation however are a completely different story. Innovation means you’re tackling something new – something fresh. People (and companies) seem far more understanding and willing to work with you when you fail dramatically during the process of creating. The trick, of course, is to pick yourself back up when you make a mistake innovating. The learning experience of blazing a new trail is invaluable and unique to those who take chances. It’s that experience, over time that will lead to massive breakthroughs. As John Maxwell said in his excellent text, Talent is Never Enough, “Persistence trumps Talent”. Don’t rely on your degree or IQ score alone to carry you through life. You need to be willing to make mistakes. Passionately.
The Adventures of Johnny Bunko is brilliant. An experiment in its own right, this soft cover is a quick read, brilliantly illustrated, and packs a punch. As the “career advisor” Diana says near the end of the book, “This isn’t just career advice, guys. In some ways, this is what it means to be alive.” Hear, hear.