2.0 Career Advice from Dan Pink, Author of Free Agent Nation

Last Thursday night I attended a very interesting presentation by Dan Pink, best selling author of "A Whole New Mind" and "Free Agent Nation." Dan is a definite free agent himself, with his last "real" job being chief speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore. The event was held at Merrill Lynch's HQ on K Street and organized by the Washington Network Group. I was stopped twice and my name checked before I got to the elevator. Tight security -- there were no freeloaders at this event!

http://www.washingtonnetworkgroup.com/index.php?tg=articles&idx=More&topics=26&article=572

Dan has come out with a 21st century career guide in a very unique format -- the Japanese form of comics called manga. He opened his remarks by explaining that 22% of the print industry in Japan is manga, and it permeates all aspects of entertainment in that culture. He suggested entrepreneurs should look to other cultures for trends that can be successfully adapted. An example is reality TV, which was big in Europe long before coming here. (of course the value in that instance is debatable) Concepts often "ping-pong" between cultures, being tweaked by each -- california rolls were the way many Americans got to know sushi, and now you can get them in Japan as well.

The book is titled "The Adventures of Johnny Bunko," and here is a video trailer courtesy of Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m12OXT1NDACMD7:mNRKS6UZPQR0C

So why manga for communicating the new rules for professional and personal success? Books go stale immediately, so Dan wanted to write in a way that started a conversation with those just starting out in their careers, not try to give them the last word on the subject. He wanted the advice to be strategic not tactical for the same reason -- would be obsolete before the book got to store shelves.

Here are the six steps for today's world:

  • Lesson One -- There is No Plan

Dan talked about instrumental vs. fundamental decision-making. Based on hundreds of interviews he's done, those who make instrumental job decisions as a way of progressing towards an ultimate goal usually fail. Those who make fundamental decisions based on what makes them happy seem to thrive. He also noted however, you need to get comfortable with a level of ambiguity about the future, which many find very hard to do.

  • Lesson Two -- Think Strengths, Not Weaknesses

Pretty self-explanatory. Focusing on what you can do is empowering, on what you can't do self-defeating.

  • Lesson Three -- It's Not About You

It's about the customer, the mission, whatever the larger goal may be. Here Dan talked about the generational divide at work. To generalize broadly, Generation Y's often view work first as what they get out of it, rather than by the value they can deliver. Dan told an amusing story about interviewing young grads to work for him on his many and various writing projects. Many focus exclusively on how great it would be for their careers, without saying much about how they would help the project.

Dan also said something that really resonated with me, since I'm helping to run a growing PR agency. As our careers progress we divide people into two groups -- those who make our lives easier, and those that make it harder. And we do everything we can to spend all our time with the first category.

  • Lesson Four -- Persistance Trumps Talent

Here the example was a recruiter who always hired musicians and athletes. Why? Because they always show up, and work at it. There was general agreement on this point, but also some comments from the crowd that we're not talking about Woody Allen's 80% of life lesson here, you need to do more than just show up.

  • Lesson Five -- Make Excellent Mistakes

We were running short on time, and Dan didn't spend much time on this one. What it made me think about was discussion I've read about the differences between West Coast and East Coast venture capital. There's a stronger aversion to making any mistakes on the East Coast, whereas in Silicon Valley it's understood you'll have some strikeouts if you regularly swing for the fences.

  • Lesson Six -- Leave an Imprint

Same as above, not much elaboration but not really needed. Made me think of Emerson's "The Meaning of Success" and the line about "to leave life better off, whether by a garden patch, a healthy child, or a redeemed social condition."

Pink is obviously a very creative guy who also talked about his love and respect for empirical data. He's also an engaging speaker. It looks like he has another best seller on his hands, and I plan to explore making Johnny Bunko a part of the professional development program here at Strategic.

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