Dr. Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur, Chief Executive Officer and award-winning author. In addition to being a two-time TED Global speaker, she regularly gives keynote speeches at conferences and corporate events around the world; from the NHS, schools and government departments to commercial organisations including Disney, Proctor & Gamble, PwC, GlaxoSmithkline, RBS, Gartner, Microsoft, JP MorganChase, Roche Pharma, IPSOS and many others.
Born in Texas, raised in Holland and educated at Cambridge University, Margaret produced programmes for the BBC for 13 years. In 1994, she returned to the United States where she worked on public affair 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.
In 2004, Margaret published The Naked Truth: A Working Woman's Manifesto about Business and What Really Matters and in 2007 she brought out Women on Top: How Female Entrepreneurs are Changing the Rules for Business Success.
Her third book, Wilful 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 most recent book, Uncharted: How to map the future was published in 2020.
Her TED talks have been seen by over twelve million people and in 2015 TED published Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes.
Margaret Heffernan 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 organisations.
She is also Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship at Simmons College in Boston and Executive in Residence at Babson College. She sits on the Council of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the UK as well as one the boards of several private companies. She holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath and continues to write for the Financial Times and the Huffington Post.
CEO and renown global business thinker, Dr Margaret Heffernan is a charismatic and authoritative speaker who challenges the most common business practices that make us feel comfortable - but leave us in the dark.
The biggest threats and dangers we face are the ones we don't see—not because they're secret, hidden or invisible but because we aren't prepared to face them. That's how good, smart people running companies find themselves blindsided by market changes, technological disruption, cultural problems or criminal behaviour.
In her groundbreaking work, Margaret Heffernan examines the social, psychological, neurological and organisational reasons why it is so hard to know what is going on in your company, your industry and your world. And she explores why some people seem to be able to see better than others and what makes some organisations perspicacious.
Two For One: Seeing Risks/Seizing Opportunity
Big data, market research, social media: we can know more than ever and yet we keep missing the most important trends, information and trends. Why?
What makes companies and individuals wilfully blind? Pulling together a century of psychological, industrial and economic research, Margaret Heffernan argues that wilful blindness is the biggest risk most organisations face. But the good news is that those companies that confront the issue don’t just reduce their risk; they also make themselves inherently more creative and collaborative. It’s a twofer: when you see more, you can make more and risk less.
The One Firm Firm
After years of streamlining and hunkering down to weather the crises, what companies now most need to do is pull their people together. Collaboration and innovation are vital skills in global business—but where do they come from?
How do leading companies get the alignment, trust and energy they need to get their people to work well together? What are the impediments to, and habits of, creative collaborative teams?
Working across cultures, time zones and technology is logistically difficult but it’s usually the human factors that make it hard for companies to achieve their aims. Everyone talks about collaboration but few know how to do it, what it feels like or what organisational structures enable—or disable—it. What they all know is that if they can’t figure out how to do it will, others will.
The Future of Leadership
Leaders used to run their organisations with a 3 step process: forecast/plan/execute – and for decades, it worked well enough. But now the future is uncertain, stake holders demand participation and transparency and long-term 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 stake holders, to the world at large. Where will we find such leaders and what kind of development will they require?
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.
The End of Efficiency
Since the Industrial Revolution, people and processes have been managed for efficiency: bigger, faster, cheaper. Technology optimises for efficiency too. It is the watchword of management 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 organisations, being too efficient is as dangerous as being spendthrift. How can you tell when efficiency is your friend – or a foe?
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.
Margaret joined our first ever strategic sales summit and she was, quite simply, amazing. She is an incredibly charming and engaging speaker but she also rounds that out with great content and proper emphasis. She articulated the importance of teamwork in a new and fresh way that really resonated with our audience of over 300 people. After the event, we surveyed the audience and Margaret had the highest score of any speaker at the event.
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.
Margaret added significantly to the resonance and impact of the conference on our participants. She did a splendid job of mixing ‘presentation’ with Q&A. This took courage on her part since she hadn’t worked with the FED in the past and had no clue what kind of questions might surface! Her thoughtful responses caused participants to think more broadly about the challenges of ‘willful blindness’.
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.
Margaret was absolutely outstanding. Our General Counsel stated that he has not heard an I&D speaker that was more eloquent nor more on point anywhere in the world. The best conversation on I&D he had ever heard. He also went on to say that Margaret was one of the top 5 speakers he has heard in his life. High praise considering he has had recent audiences with Bill Gates and Barack Obama. As you might know, Margaret kicked off 4 days of our Legal community sharing information on the organisation and the future of Legal in the EU/MEA and I am delighted to report that each one of the following 27 speakers referenced Margaret and her discussion in their presentations. If you understand Lawyers and their lack of interest in taking advice at times, this reference is high praise indeed.
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.
Margaret was fabulous, a great storyteller with practical tips. She was one of the highest rated speakers of the event.
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