Career advice from Johnny Bunko

A few weeks ago, I got chatting to the astute Ezri Carlebach. I asked him what can I do to excel and succeed in my first job. Ezri’s answer was straightforward. He recommended reading The Adventures of Johnny Bunko by Daniel Pink. I’ve decided to compile the career advice from the piece.

Johnny Bunko has graduated from the university and landed a job in the profession he’s been studying for — accounting. Throughout this piece, in the form that resembles of Japanese manga, our protagonist gets a hugely valuable advice from the Pixie named Diana. Here are the main takeaways.

#1 Don’t have a plan

Pixie accurately points out that we live in the fast-moving world and the industry we are working in, might not exist in the next few years. Her first advice is not to plan our career wholly and leave out space for some improvisation. Flexibility and being able to adapt our skills is significant.

Daniel Pink also shares his view on the instrumental and fundamental reasons that drive our decision-making process. Instrumental reasons are the ones that we make because we think these would lead us to something else. Fundamental reasons are about enjoying doing something. Diana puts it this way:

The dirty little secret is that instrumental reasons usually don’t work, things are too complicated, too unpredictable (…) The most successful people — not all of the time, but most of the time — make decisions for fundamental reasons.

The key lesson from this advice is to not plan our career meticulously, but do something we enjoy and stay flexible, always being on the lookout for the new opportunities.

#2 Focus on your strengths

Bunko gets told that “key to success is to around your weaknesses and focus on your strengths.” This piece of advice helps him in realisation that finance and accounting is not for him. Johnny’s biggest assets are drawing and he’s good at thinking of the new ideas. He then moves to the marketing department of his company. Diana shares some words of wisdom:

Successful people don’t try too hard to improve what they’re bad at. They capitalize on what they’re good at.

#3 “It’s not about you”

The next lesson we learn from Johnny Bunko’s adventures is that all we do in our jobs is to serve others. It’s all about our clients, people we work for, wider target audiences. We have to embrace our strengths for others, not for ourselves. As Diana puts it:

You’re here to serve, not self-actualize.

#4 Persistence is key

Diana takes Johnny and his coworkers to the trip. They go to the casino, where they can wager on… people. They get to choose who’d be more successful within a few years — Robinson, who is talented but not persistent, or Richardson, who is somewhat talented but incredibly persistent. They learn that it’s Richardson, who wins with her determination over the talent. The Pixie sums up the trip:

There are massive returns to doggedness. The people who achieve the most, are often the ones who stick with it when others don’t.

#5 Make mistakes

Our protagonist makes a mistake and is now worried that his project will fail. Pixie makes him realise that mistakes are the essential part of success and making excellent mistakes is part of the journey. Diana points out that so many people try to avoid making mistakes and in the result, they don’t do anything. She says:

The most successful people make spectacular mistakes — huge, honking screwups! Why? They’re trying to do something big, but each time they make a mistake, they get a little better and move a little closer to excellence.

#6 Make a change

In the final chapter, Diana tells Johnny that it’s important to “leave an imprint.” She highlights that it’s significant to find our purpose, make a change and leave something behind us. The Pixie also says:

…life isn’t infinite, (…) you should use your limited time here to do something that matters.

All in all, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko is a fantastic, and fun to read, book that I’d recommend to anyone starting their career. It gives some sound advice and offers many solutions for many struggles of the young people in the workplace.


The Adventures of Johnny Bunko are slightly hard to get hold of, but you might getting them from Amazon, or checking the website of Daniel Pink. Make sure to follow Ezri, who recommended the piece.

If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at], tweet me @marcelkl or connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!