Creativity, J.K.Rowling and How to succeed

Does J.K Rowling have very high IQ? Did she come from family of writers? Is she a gifted writer like Jane Austin or Charles Dickens? Answer to all is NO. Yet she is successful. Harry Potter series has sold millions of copies all over world.

During time of publishing first book of series J.K. Rowling was jobless, living on state welfare benefits, divorcee and had a dependent child. The first book ( whose draft was manually typed) was rejected by twelve publishing houses. Finally, publishing house Bloomsbury decided to publish it.

I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I still had a daughter who I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

– J. K. Rowling

Within five years of publishing first novel, J.K Rowling was a multi- millionaire.

What explains success of people like J.K Rowling?

High IQ does not explain it; most people with high IQ have convergent thinking i.e. they try to find one right answer for any problem. Creativity has more to do with divergent thinking i.e. ability to come up with many possible answers or ideas to question that has no single solution.

Success of J.K Rowling can be explained by theory of psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, which he calls as theory of investment.

As per theory creative people like Rowling decide to buy low and sell high in ideas, meaning that they generate and pursue ideas and concepts that seem too unusual or out-of-the mainstream ( orphan wizard and magic school). However, these are the ideas that have the potential for the most growth.

Even when an unorthodox or novel idea receives a great amount of resistance from the field, the creative individual pursues and persists, eventually persuading others of its merit, and sells the idea high. And then the creative individual moves on to the next unorthodox and novel idea.

According to Stenberg it has to do with intellectual skills of individual, there are three intellectual skills …

1. The synthetic ability to see problems in new ways and to escape the bounds of conventional thinking.

2. The analytic ability to recognize which of one’s ideas are worth pursuing and which are not.

3. The practical– contextual ability to know how to persuade others of—to sell other people on—the value of one’s ideas.

There are other factors which are also working like personality (ability to overcome obstacles), intrinsic motivation etc.

Creativity is domain specific, Rowling came up with unusual idea in area of child fiction, managed to sell it to publishers, and hence was a big success. But Rowling is unable to achieve same success in area of crime fiction, her ideas are not considered novel in area of crime fiction i.e. she is not buying low and selling high. That domain belongs to Stephen King, whose first novel Carrie too faced lot of rejections before it got published.


Another explanation comes from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. According to him creativity is intersection of domain, individual and gate keepers.

Rowling as an individual is creative; she got ideas about her characters during unusual events like waiting for train (idea of child wizard), her mother’s death (death of Potter’s parents) and her illness (idea of death eaters). As noted earlier, her ideas were novel in domain of child fiction. But these two – i.e. creative individual and right domain, are not sufficient for success.

Factor that makes difference is – “gate keepers”- these are domain experts, critics, marketing agencies, media editors who finally certify if idea is indeed novel in that domain and worth taking forward. So creative individual with novel idea, has to meet right gate keepers (in Rowling’s case publisher and 8 year old critic!) to achieve success.


All of us are creative. To succeed, spend time to think about some unheard, unusual idea in your domain (i.e. buy cheap) get in touch with right gate keepers ex. your boss’s boss, mentor, sponsor, CEO etc. and sell high i.e. convince them that your idea is indeed novel and worth pursuing.





One thought on “Creativity, J.K.Rowling and How to succeed

  1. The idea of a “child wizard” is not new. There are the Groosham Grange books by Anthony Horowitz which involve mysterious letters of admission to an isolated haunted castle like (coed) boarding school for magic. There’s also the Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy. Perhaps The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson can be included as an inspiration for the Dursley story line (trying to prevent the special child from attending the school.)


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