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Margaret Heffernan

Entrepreneur, TED Speaker, Business Author & Former CEO

CEO, TED speaker and business thinker Margaret Heffernan is a charismatic and authoritative speaker who challenges the most common business practices in ways and from angles that never fail to surprise and engage her audience. Her latest book, Uncharted: How to Map the Future Together, invites us to adapt to a world in which uncertainty is the new normal.  It could not be more timely as Covid19 brings unprecedented disruption to lives and businesses across the globe. Margaret now offers virtual conferencing and webinars to clients.

Dr. Margaret Heffernan produced programmes for the BBC for 13 years. She then moved to the US where she spearheaded multimedia productions for Intuit, The Learning Company and Standard&Poors. She was Chief Executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and then iCast Corporation, was named one of the "Top 25" by Streaming Media magazine and one of the "Top 100 Media Executives" by The Hollywood Reporter.

The author of six books, Margaret’s third book, Willful Blindness : Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril was named one of the most important business books of the decade by the Financial Times. In 2015, she was awarded the Transmission Prize for A Bigger Prize: Why Competition isn’t Everything and How We Do Better, described as "meticulously researched... engagingly written... universally relevant and hard to fault." Her TED talks have been seen by over twelve million people and in 2015 TED published Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes. Her most recent book, Uncharted: How to map the future was published in 2020.

She is a Professor of Practice at the University of Bath, Lead Faculty for the Forward Institute’s Responsible Leadership Programme and, through Merryck & Co., mentors CEOs and senior executives of major global organizations. She holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath and continues to write for the Financial Times and the Huffington Post.

Talks available Virtually as well as Face to Face

Building Sustainable Trust: You earn trust slowly but can lose it fast. Dutch saying: Trust comes on foot but leaves on horseback.

The Four Pillars of Trust:

  • benevolence - wanting the best for others
  • consistency - people believe you stick to what you say, you keep promises
  • integrity - behaving the same way in public and private, regardless of whom you are with
  • competence - you are able to do what you promise.
The pandemic forced bosses to trust their workforce and, on the whole, they’ve not been disappointed.  What that has shown is how important reciprocal trust is: to get it you must also give it.


Leading through the pandemic

Every crisis presents choices. Cut costs. Sell assets. Preserve the status quo—or change everything. But what are the characteristics of longterm success? For leaders, the temptation is to simplify what is complex, to frame choices as binary. Or it can feel easier to hunker down and wait. But lasting success depends on a frank exploration of assets, environment and options. Throughout the pandemic, working with a wide range of organizations (from large publicly traded corporates to public institutions and startups) Margaret Heffernan has watched leaders rise to the challenge – or duck it. What can we learn today that will make us stronger tomorrow?

Leading through Uncertainty

Management used to be a 3-legged stool: forecast—plan—execute. But now our ability to forecast has become dangerously short term. Experts estimate that the very best forecasters can see no further than 400 days out; for the rest of us, the time horizon is a mere 150 days. The 3-leged stool is no longer secure.

In the face of uncertainty, how should leaders think about the future? What can they do now? What kind of long term thinking is worthwhile and useful? What are the perspectives and processes that illuminate opportunities? Not knowing the future could leave leaders feeling helpless, but they aren’t. They simply need a different mindset and different processes with which to confront a future where little is clear but much is possible.

Margaret Heffernan has watched leaders rise to the challenge – or duck it. What can we learn today that will make us stronger tomorrow?

In this presentation, Dr. Heffernan shares the research in her new book UNCHARTED: How to Navigate the Future as well as her current work with major institutions around the world.

We are addicted to prediction because we want to plan for the future, and because uncertainty is so uncomfortable. But there are huge pitfalls in forecasting and it’s critical to understand how far we can rely on them. Why do they so often let us down? Under what circumstances are they reliable? How can we use forecasting well without becoming addicted to its false certainties.

However thorough our data collection, however comprehensive our analysis, we cannot predict the future with absolute accuracy; uncertainty remains endemic in our lives and our organizations. Experts in forecasting maintain that their predictions are accurate just 400 days out – and that’s the best that the best can do. For the rest of us, the horizon is 150 days. But management has depended on forecasting – planning – execution. If the first phase isn’t reliable, how do we do the rest?


Since the Industrial Revolution, people and processes have been managed for efficiency: bigger, faster, cheaper. Technology optimizes for efficiency too. It is the watchword of managements everywhere.

But while efficiency delivers tangible benefits in complicated environments, it plays havoc with complex ones. Being able to distinguish the difference between the two, knowing when efficiency is safe and when its dangerous, has never been more critical. Get it wrong and companies risk spending too much, amplifying endemic risks or missing huge opportunities to innovate. In today’s organizations, being too efficient is as dangerous as being spendthrift. How can you tell when efficiency is your friend – or a foe?

“Cathedral projects” is the phrase that Stephen Hawking used to describe projects, lasting more than a lifetime, that attempted “to bridge heaven and earth.’ They are born in uncertainty and their future is ambiguous from the start. But their ambition is to last and to bring to the world something of value and impact. What can we learn from these projects about contemporary organizations: their ambition, meaning and future? Does our inability to predict the future make such projects more or less viable? If we want long term institutions that matter, what kind of leadership and followership do they require?

A 2-part workshop

Part 1: We can’t predict the future. Experts in forecasting say they can see reliably only about 400 days out; those less expert are good at only about 150 days. Why is seeing the future so difficult? Why are pundits so often wrong? If history repeats itself, why isn’t it a good guide? And what about the huge promise of Big Data and AI: won’t that show us where we are going?

Part 2: Once you accept that the future isn’t knowable, what do you need to do and to be? The impacts on leadership are huge, requiring both different processes and personalities. What are these – and how can you develop them?

Leaders used to run their organizations with a 3 step process: forecast/plan/execute – and for decades, it worked well enough. But now the future is uncertain, stakeholders demand participation and transparency and longterm thinking, while crucial, feels harder than ever. In an age of ambiguity and anxiety, what are the crucial skills and characteristics that leaders must have? What is their relationship to experts, to stakeholders, to the world at large. Where will we find such leaders and what kind of development will they require?


Wilful BlindnessThe Naked Truth

Beyond MeasureWomen on Top   A Bigger Prize


"Margaret delivered a colourful and engaging masterclass to a sold out session here in the IMI. She discussed how deceptively small measures can have a disproportionate impact on building a strong, sustainable organisational culture. Here at the IMI, we look at successful events on the number of fronts and audience participation is key. The Q&A session with Margaret was our best yet." - David Magee, IMI

“Margaret was brilliant, very approachable and positive. Plus, she delivered an incredible presentation. Please pass along our appreciation, along with her average score from the audience:  8.82/10 - amazing score & great presentation. Very inspiring!” Excellence Summit

"The session was optimistic and encouraging, it emphasised that there are opportunities amongst all of the challenges that our clients are facing and provided advice on how to navigate the uncertain times that lie ahead." DLA Piper Thought Leader Series

"Margaret was fabulous, a great storyteller with practical tips.  She was one of the highest rated speakers of the event." LINKAGE (USA)

"We owe YOU a huge thank you. Your session was definitely the highlight of the day - everyone was so engaged and then talking about it at the drinks later on having received their books - inspiring stuff. We were very pleased with how the day went." PWC (London)

"Your presentation was excellent, very well received by the teams, at all levels. I personally loved it. It very much resonated with me, and everyone could take something back to their day to day life, reflect and hopefully make some changes that would be beneficial to all. During all the many presentations we had at L@L, every single GSK presenter from Legal referred to your presentation! Thanks again. It was a pleasure to listen to you." SK (London)

"As you can tell from the attached evaluation summary, those in the room were really engaged.  They benefitted from not only from the stories you shared, but also those you encouraged in the room from each other.  Everyone was able to take something away to use and develop back at their organisations and Trusts.  I couldn’t have asked for more from a masterclass." KKS ACADEMY

"Margaret delivered a colourful and engaging masterclass to a sold out session here in the IMI. She discussed how deceptively small measures can have a disproportionate impact on building a strong, sustainable organisational culture. Here at the IMI, we look at successful events on the number of fronts and audience participation is key. The Q&A session with Margaret was our best yet." - David Magee, IMI

"Margaret’s contribution at our annual strategic offsite was outstanding – we could not have wished for a more thought provoking and insightful presentation. We had expected that she would hit some of the topics that we have built our change initiatives around – but little did we expect that our approaches would be this close. Our colleagues who were there also agreed with the majority rating her session as the one of the most valuable of our offsite." - Allianz Global Investors

"The feedback for Margaret was fantastic, delegates really got a lot out of what she said, and how she said it! Content was fantastic, I think that Margaret related to the brief really well but crucially brought the fantastic external perspective that we were looking for. When it came to the panel I think that Margaret was a brilliant asset and brought a huge amount to the table." Aisling Lewis, MPD Leader, Procter & Gamble

"I was chatting to a couple of chief executives at the end of the conference, and both unprompted commented that yours was the most stimulating session, and the one that got them thinking the most." - Joe Simpson, Principal Strategic Advisor, Local Government Association

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