Monday, February 1, 2010

JK Rowling: The fringe benefits of failure

Seriously great. She doesn't get enough credit for being an exceptional person on top of everything else.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Via the TED Talk blog


The Bloginator! said...

So what exactly do we take away from this speech? I am confused by its noteworthiness. It seems like the same bourgeois crap they always trot out to the graduating class eager to become the new masters of the universe. And, also, those wizard books are pretty mediocre.

odori said...

Liked it. What she had to say about failure is especially true.

Heeero said...

I agree with Odori.

Ruby Tenneco said...

I liked it too-- I'm about two-thirds of the way through reading the Potter books for the first time, and I'm enjoying the £$%& out of them. They can be a tiny bit pedantic in dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's, but that goes along with a kind of internal consistency that would have massively satisfied me when I was actually the age that you're supposed to be when you read them. I remember getting so confused and annoyed by trying to understand how all the various Spiderman stories could possibly link up. When did Spider Man and His Amazing Friends happen??!? Or this? What about that educational comic about angel dust?!? It used to drive me bonkers!

It's interesting to see what J.K. Rowling's like in person, thanks Odori!

Mr. Pony said...

Failure is kind of big now, it seems. In his talk at UH, Pierre Omidyar mentioned the virtues of failure, suggesting that you really don't learn anything when you succeed. Just this morning I listened to a podcast in which Seth Godin talks about how the more primitive parts of our brain keep us from taking risks, making mistakes, and being remarkable.

Rowling's reason for being all into failure is a little different, and maybe just a little basic. Like, if you've failed all that you can fail, then you have nothing to worry about (with regards to further failure). Kind of like the victim in the third act of one of those Saw movies.

Which I haven't seen. I also haven't read the Harry Potter books yet, but I'm planning to read them to my boys when they get old enough to appreciate them. I imagine I'll like them, as I am a big fan of the source material; the Books of Magic limited series from Vertigo in 1990, as well as the Larry Potter series and that Muggles book by the same author.

Mr. Pony said...

I don't mean to sound like I don't like J.K. Rowling. I mean, she's anti-violent political oppression, and pro-friendship, so I'm sure she's fine, in my book. So I guess I also agree with The Bloginator, a little.

Fugu said...

Funny about the primitive parts of our brains possibly stopping us from taking risks. Evidently I am fucking primitive.

But in what way do you think the books are mediocre? Since the target audience is kids, I think they're actually pretty great.

Mr. Pony said...

Oh, I don't necessarily agree with The Bloginator! about the books themselves being mediocre. I haven't even read them. I did listen the the audio version of the first one, which I think I would have been really into, if I were six and liked candy and hadn't ever read the first chapter of James and the Giant Peach.

I'm just saying that I can see The Bloginator!'s point about Rowling's speech being a little unsurprising. Near as I can tell, her three main points were as follows:

1) When you got nothin', you got nothin' to lose
2) And today the millions cry; we eat and drink while tomorrow they die
3) I get by with a little help from my friends

All very nice; hard-to-disagree-with messages--but I think what The Bloginator! is trying to say is that he would like to be challenged a little more, or perhaps that he would like the graduating class of Harvard to be challenged a little more.

I dunno, maybe this is just the sort of speech that should be delivered to a graduating class needs to hear. I mean, I really don't know. It sounds a lot like Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss (whom I suspect also rubs The Bloginator! the wrong way).

odori said...


what she said may not have been surprising, but that doesn't mean these new graduates didn't need to hear it.

these are 22 year old kids who have succeeded fabulously at everything they've done. most, if not the vast majority, have led very sheltered lives and haven't experienced much adversity.

it's great for kids like this to hear about how someone can rebound from complete, total and overwhelming failure.

her presentation also is important: she's incredibly humble and self-deprecating. i'm hoping some of the new graduates picked up on this and absorbed the notion you don't have to be an arrogant dick to succeed.

Fugu said...

Yeah, the most important message for them is to probably hear "don't become an asshole" a thousand different ways.