Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination

J.K. Rowling delivered the Commencement Address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association, May 2008.  Apart from being entertaining and witty, she offers great insights.

Speaking from her life’s experiences (prior to her success), J.K. Rowling said that apart from the fact that it stripped away the inessential….

Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies. 

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after,secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.Such knowledge is a true gift…

No-one could doubt that her imagination was instrumental in turning her failure into success.  However, this was not the point she wanted to make.  In her early 20’s, J.K.Rowling worked at the African research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London in order to pay for her rent.  During that time, she read many stories, saw many photos, met torture victims and this all greatly affected her (do listen to her account).  She concluded:

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.

For me, there were three immediate take-aways with regards to imagination:

  1. We can think ourselves into other people’s minds, imagine (our)selves into other people’s places, and therefore show empathy,
  2. Empathy has power; it can ignite collective action, and
  3. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

There are more gems within this speech for the finding (and here’s the link).

Introvert Leaders

As most of us experience, its the extraverts who tend to rise in organisations more quickly.  And why?

“The features that define extraversion are commonly the features people associate with leadership.”
However, both types of leaders, the extraverts and the introverts, can be equally successful or ineffectual, but with different groups of employees – as research is now showing.Check out:
Introverts: The Best Leaders for Proactive Employees
HBS WorkingKnoweldge
by Carmen Nobel
October 4, 2010

Starting a movement; the role of leaders and followers

Here is a neat little video from TED : Derek Sivers: How to start a movement.

We often think that leadership is about being out in front and being brave to stand out and for taking certain initiatives.  While that is part of it, leadership is also about nurturing the first few followers.

Another form of leadership was shown in the video.  It was the first courageous follower.  It was this guy that transformed the first guy into a leader.  Interestingly, the leader embraced – publically – the first follower as an equal; it matters how new leaders treat and develop their first few “direct reports”.

The embraced follower then brought in another follower.

More followers joined in and before long, a tipping point was reached.  It was at this point that it became un-cool not to be part of the movement.   What extraordinary influence was exercised by the first few guys.  Interestingly in the end, we lost sight of them in the crowd, the crowd clearly was not watching them waiting for the next steps and everyone was just getting on with getting on!

“…it was the shirtless guy who was first, and he’ll get all the credit, but it was really the first follower that transformed the lone nut into a leader.”

The first follower had tremendous influence!  The early followers emulated the first follower, and very quickly, the crowd became a movement!

The beginning …and the first nugget!

I find nuggets in various places.  Nuggets also come to me.  I’ve often thought about sharing them, but never got-around-to-it.  However, today, I have got-around-to-it.   I’m also encouraged to do this by a few friends cum colleagues.

I thought I would start with the nugget that started this venture.  It came to me via a new colleague who I met recently in Colorado Springs, Dr. Rich Grenhart.

Check out :

     “If you have never failed, you have never lived!”

Its a great short video that can be used for sharing, presentations, coaching, and reflection.