The 8-year-old that saved Harry Potter

What do you really want? is a weekly conversation to help you figure out what you really want and how to get it at work and in life.


JK Rowling's original pitch for Harry Potter was rejected 12 times. And if not for an 8-year-old girl, she may never have found success.

Nigel Newton, CEO of Bloomsbury Publishing, received a 50-page sample of Harry Potter from Rowling’s agent. But he didn’t read it.

He gave it to his 8-year-old daughter, Alice.

One hour later she came downstairs. “Dad, this is so much better than anything else.”

She then nagged him for months to get the rest of the story.

While Harry Potter is yet another example of success coming from perseverance through failure, there is a deeper lesson about how to know if something is good: Experiment.

Go from conjecture to actuals.

Conjecture happens when you say “I think this could work” or “That doesn’t sound like something young readers would like”. Assumptions about what could or might happen are easy to make and often wrong.

Actuals happen when you run an almost-real experiment, like giving the first 50 pages to a young reader. Then observe. Don’t just ask if someone liked it or if they’d pay money for it. Watch what happens.

So here’s my question for you this week: How can you go from conjecture to actuals in your life?

The shorter the path, the quicker you can stop guessing what you want or what might bring success. You will be able to quickly decide if a new path is the right one for you.

Some tests you could run:

  • You have a new product idea: Build a quick prototype and have someone try using it (Google Slides or Typeform are great for this)

  • You want to be a coach: Offer a free coaching session to someone and see their reaction

  • You want to move somewhere new: Get an Airbnb for a couple of nights

  • You need to change a team process: Try it once and get feedback before committing long-term

It took an 8-year-old an hour to figure out Harry Potter was a winner. That’s after many other (adults) said, “Nah, that doesn’t sound like it will work.” I’m sure they now wish they’d run a simple test with an actual customer instead of speculating based on a summary.

See another thread I wrote about experimenting—