J.K. Rowling’s Innovation Inspired an Entire Generation (and Their Parents)

September 25, 2009


Our family trip to Chicago earlier this month wouldn't have been complete without a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). Even without a special exhibit, MSI is a showcase of technological innovation. Although we spent several hours taking much of it in, it was Harry Potter: The Exhibition that brought us there.

Arriving at MSI, we were greeted in the lobby by Mr. Weasley's car (the only item in the exhibit other than the billboards I was allowed to photograph). All the staff spoke with British accents Рand at least some of them seem to have traveled directly from the UK. The tour began as a group. First, we were met by a wizard and a Sorting Hat. The wizard welcomed us all and proceeded to conduct a Sorting Hat Ceremony where he sorted some of the younger visitors into their houses. Next we entered a dark room with loud noises and vignettes from the six Harry Potter films gracing several small screens. Then we were off to explore the wild and crazy costumes, set d̩cor and other paraphernalia. I'm not going to ruin anything because perhaps you'll have a chance to see it for yourself one day, but the attention to detail is mind boggling.

At one point, my husband turned to me and said somewhat in jest, “J.K. Rowling must have been on drugs to come up with all this.” (And what about the set and costume designers who turned her vision into a reality?)

Taking it all in, I preferred to think of her as a woman who exemplifies how innovation triumphs in tough times. Author J.K. Rowling pursued her passion for writing, put on her thinking cap and her imagination to work. She went from being unemployed, standing in the welfare line to one of the wealthiest and most celebrated women in the world. Last year, her fortune was estimated at $798 billion. To date, she has won numerous awards, sold more than 400 million copies of her books and become a generous philanthropist supporting several charities.

But it didn't stop there – the success of the Harry Potter series has helped boost the publishing and film industries, employed hundreds of actors (including some of the finest classically trained actors in the world), brilliant talent behind the scenes and taken three previously unknown kids and made them stars who are now financially set for life.

What's most notable is how she single-handedly made reading books cool again for a whole generation of kids around the world. And not just any generation of kids but the same kids who also comprised the first generation of digital immigrants – meaning they've never grown up without computers in their lifetime. Remarkable isn't it?