The Importance of Imagination

J.K. Rowling, famed author of the Harry Potter series, recently gave a commencement address at Harvard University. Her speech, entitled The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination was an inspiring look into her life and success.

In her address, Rowling stresses the importance of imagination, not just because imagination was key to her success as an author, but because it is what enables us to create and make progress. As Rowling so poetically puts it:

“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared…Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.”

The only question is really whether or not we choose to use this faculty that is so uniquely ours—whether or not we choose to do something with it. Every great innovator out there has imagined something different; something better than the status quo, and worked toward making that vision a reality. The folks at Apple imagined a world where mobile computing was contained in a pocket-sized device, Googlers imagine a world where all the world’s information is universally accessible and useful, Honda’s engineers imagine a world where automobiles emit only pure water, and Kiva imagines a world where any entrepreneur in the world can have access to the funds they need to get their business going. These organizations, and many others out there, are using their employees’ collective imaginations to create products, services, and entirely different business models that change the way things are done.

The reality is that we all have the ability to imagine something different and better and innovative—we just have to fuel the fire and keep it burning long enough to make something happen. So, what is it that you imagine for the future? How are you going to get there?

Visit Harvard Magazine for a full transcript, video, and MP3 of Rowling’s address, or watch the video (in three parts) below.

(J.K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Address: Part 1 of 3)

(J.K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Address: Part 2 of 3)

(J.K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Address: Part 3 of 3)


One Response to The Importance of Imagination

  1. Matt R. says:

    Excellent speech. Ms. Rowling makes a lot of good points about where failure and imagination can lead us in life. Though she’s talking about these two things in the context of “life,” there’s a great deal that’s equally applicable to the business world.

    Failure, in business, doesn’t necessarily let you know who your friends are, but it does help a company learn what it’s made of and who its supporters are, which is along the same vein as what Rowling is talking about. When a company is on the brink of failure, only the most dedicated employees and devoted customers/clients stick around. Everyone else abandons ship, and what you’re left with is an organization that’s lean and ready to take on the next big thing with a team of people that’s committed to making success a reality. I think that’s a great thing about failure in the business world, and probably the silver lining to our current economic “crisis.”

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