Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer at Nexus FrontierTech; Harvard Professor of Business & Economics; Author
Margaret Heffernan’s skills as a multimedia producer earned her a place atop her industry. Her penetrating and detailed reflections on the essence of business made her a thought leader whose wisdom transcends sectors. Events seeking a fresh look at the way we do business find insight, inspiration, and levity in Heffernan’s keynote addresses.
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An award-winning multimedia producer, author, and influential business speaker, Margaret Heffernan helps individuals and corporations map the future of work. As a public speaker, Margaret Heffernan tireless imagination, wry humour, and refreshing candour enliven events around the world. Her TED talks have been seen by more than 11 million people, and her live addresses are even more memorable.
Born in Texas, raised in the Netherlands, and educated at Cambridge, Margaret Heffernan began her career as a producer with the BBC. After returning to the US, Heffernan turned her attention to the private sector. Her ground-breaking multimedia productions for Standard & Poor, Intuit, and The Learning Company earned her recognition as a brilliant leader. As Chief Executive of InfoMation, ZineZone, and iCast, Heffernan won plaudits from publications such as Streaming Media and The Hollywood Reporter.
Heffernan’s experience as a producer, entrepreneur, and industry-leading executive have helped make her one of our most essential business writers. Her first book, The Naked Truth, is a candid manifesto on how women can forge successful careers on their terms. Its follow-up, Women on Top, is nothing less than a redefinition of our popular understanding of power and success.
Furthermore, Willful Blindness, published in 2011, examines the blinders we voluntarily wear, their dangers, and how to discard them. A Bigger Prize explores the nature of competition and the desperate limits of zero-sum thinking. Beyond Measure returns to the workplace, describing in meticulous detail the ways in which small changes can yield enormous changes.
2020’s Uncharted: How to Map the Future Together, caused Tom Peters to “look at the world—and myself—differently.” In it, Heffernan argues that technological advances give us a false sense of certainty and leave us prey to groupthink. Instead, we should pursue a clear-eyed embrace of uncertainty and a creative approach to answering it.
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.
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? 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.
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.
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?
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.
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