Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur, Chief Executive, and author. She was born in Texas, raised in Holland and educated at Cambridge University. She worked in BBC Radio for five years where she wrote, directed, produced and commissioned dozens of documentaries and dramas.
As a television producer, she made documentary films for Timewatch, Arena, and Newsnight. She was one of the producers of Out of the Doll's House, the prize-winning documentary series about the history of women in the twentieth century.
She designed and executive produced a thirteen-part series on The French Revolution for the BBC and A&E. The series featured, among others, Alan Rickman, Alfred Molina, Janet Suzman, Simon Callow and Jim Broadbent and introduced both historian Simon Schama and playwright Peter Barnes to British television. She also produced music videos with Virgin Records and the London Chamber Orchestra to raise attention and funds for Unicef's Lebanese fund.
Leaving the BBC, she ran the trade association IPPA, which represented the interests of independent film and television producers and was once described by the Financial Times as "the most formidable lobbying organization in England."
In 1994, she returned to the United States where she worked on public affairs campaigns in Massachusetts and with software companies trying to break into multimedia. She developed interactive multimedia products with Peter Lynch, Tom Peters, Standard & Poors, and The Learning Company.
She then joined CMGI where she ran, bought and sold leading Internet businesses, serving as Chief Executive Officer for InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. She was named one of the Internet's Top 100 by Silicon Alley Reporter in 1999, one of the Top 25 by Streaming Media magazine and one of the Top 100 Media Executives by The Hollywood Reporter. Her "Tear Down the Wall" campaign against AOL won the 2001 Silver SABRE award for public relations.
Her third book, Willful Blindness (Simon&Schuster in the UK, Bloomsbury in the US, Doubleday in Canada) was a finalist for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Best Business Book award. In 2014, the Financial Times named it one of its "best business books of the decade.” Her next book A Bigger Prize (Simon&Schuster in the UK, Public Affairs in the US and Doubleday in Canada) won the Transmission Prize. Her most recent book Beyond Measure : The Big Impact of Small Changes was published in 2015. Her TED talks have been seen by over 3 million people. She is a Trustee of the London Library and sits on the Council of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art as well as one the boards of several private companies. Margaret blogs for the Huffington Post in the US and the UK and for Inc.com. and mentors senior and Chief Executives.
The biggest mistakes we make in life and work aren’t caused by total unknowns but by information, we could have and should have but somehow manage not to have. The law calls this willful blindness because we had an opportunity for knowledge which was shirked. Examples are all around us: the banking crash, Deepwater Horizon, VW emissions, Wells Fargo, Boeing.
How does this happen? But there are also examples of willful blindness in which great opportunities for innovation were missed: how did Google miss social networking? Why didn’t hotels take Airbnb seriously? Examples abound. So what are the forces at work, in us and in corporate cultures, that allow willful blindness to flourish – and what can we do to minimize it.
Using a wide array of real-life examples, Margaret Heffernan dissects the causes of this ubiquitous phenomenon and identifies how we can all see better.
Willful Blindness: How we ignore the obvious at our peril was shortlisted for the FT Best Business Book award and was described as “one of the most important books of the decade.” Dr. Heffernan has talked about this work to organizations as diverse as healthcare, financial services, schools, government bodies, psychologists, engineers, and designers.
COLLABORATION: A BIGGER PRIZE
Around the world, organizations strive to develop a collaborative workforce. They know that diverse minds, working together, will see more opportunities and identify risk better. But collaboration is difficult. For the most part, we’ve been brought up to compete with each other – at school, university, for jobs – and great collaboration requires a great deal more than open-plan offices. So what are the organizations that do this well and what are the routines and cultures that develop and enhance people who can work together effectively for years on end?
A Bigger Prize won the Transmission Prize in 2015 for the great communication of important ideas. Dr. Heffernan has talked about this work to broadcasters, sports teams, large and small corporations, universities and business schools.
UNCHARTED: How to think about an unpredictable future
We are all brought up to plan: for families, careers, businesses. But planning requires that we can forecast the future – and today that is harder than ever. Experts in prediction argue that the very best they can do is forecast 400 days out. For those less gifted, the horizon is 150 days. Most forecasts are propaganda or wishful thinking. Models fail because they leave out what later matters and history doesn’t repeat itself. So what do we do in the light of the fact that we don’t know what the future holds?
Companies that don’t want to be stuck in incrementalism do experiments, testing what the future could look like. In doing so, they find options and opportunities no amount of planning would surface. Imaginative scenarios of possible futures build a more robust culture and reveal possibilities. Institutions like CERN show how it is possible to run successful organizations even when mired in uncertainty and ambiguity. Artists build work that remains vital and meaningful across generations; we can learn from them. Survivors of the existential crisis show the capabilities we must hold in reserve. In an age of uncertainty, preparedness is a more productive mindset than planning.
Uncharted is being published in February 2020 in the UK and September 2020 in the US. Be prepared….
The world is awash with forecasts and predictions about the future of work. They all contradict each other, revealing how much we don’t know about what the dynamic workforce of the future will need or look like. But there are fundamental mindsets and attitudes which will make organizations better able to be creative and responsive as the world changes. What does your company need to be trustworthy, relevant and capable of adapting to what cannot yet be seen?
This talk derives from all of Dr. Heffernan’s major work around collaboration, creativity, curiosity and the need for organizations of all kinds to stay connected to the societies they serve.
Founding Director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation (CSLi) at the University of Texas
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