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 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.
Heffernan has published five books: The Naked Truth: A Working Woman’s Manifesto (Wiley, 2004) is about women’s careers. Women on Top: How Female Entrepreneurs are Changing the Rules for Business Success (Penguin 2007) charts the rise of female entrepreneurs. Her most recent book was shortlisted for the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs “Best Business Book of the Year Award”; entitled Wilful Blindness (Simon & Schuster 2011) it examines why we ignore the obvious, in our personal and professional lives. All of these works explore why and how companies packed full of talented, motivated and committed executives fail to spot major problems or to capture the full intellectual innovative capacity of their people. A Bigger Prize (Simon & Schuster 2014) looks at what it takes for individuals and organizations to be truly creative and collaborative: where the barriers to achievement lie and how to overcome them. In 2015, TED published Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes which looks at the defining characteristics of sustainably innovative organizations.
Heffernan was featured on BBC Radio 4 in Changing the Rules, which won the 2008 “Prowess Media Award”. She devised and led a program for female entrepreneurs at Simmons College, one of the few all-female business schools in the United States. Through Merryck & Co., she advises global businesses leaders. She teaches at the School of Management at the University of Bath and has been invited to speak at business schools around the world, including Harvard Business School, the Rotman School, London Business School and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. She also lectures widely at organizations as diverse as the Federal Bank of the United States, Accenture, Intel, Microsoft, Roche, KLA-Tencor, State Street, Khosla Ventures, Standard Chartered Bank, Chrysler, J.P.Morgan Chase and Procter & Gamble.
Her TED talks have been seen by over 6 million people. She has been invited to speak at all of the world’s leading financial services businesses, the leading FTSE and S&P corporations as well as the world’s most successful sports teams. She continues to advise private and public businesses, to mentor senior and chief executives and to write for the Financial Times and Huffington Post.
- 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.
- 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?
- Human Work
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 kind to stay connected to the societies they serve.
- 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 existential crisis show the capabilities we must hold in reserve. In an age of uncertainty, preparedness is a more productive mindset than planning.
- 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.
- Willfull Blindness
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.