Margaret Heffernan keynote and motivational speaker

Margaret Heffernan

Award-winning multimedia pioneer, acclaimed author, TED speaker, and professor shaping future leaders and sparking change

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 13 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.

It quickly became a bestseller and was nominated for the Financial Times Best Business Book award, the CMI Best Business Book and was chosen as the “Medium Best of the Best” business book.

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 chairs the boards of DACS and FilmBath and is a Trustee of the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution.

Speech Topics


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?


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.

Allianz Global Investors

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 prpper emphasis. She articulated the importance of teamwork in a new and fresh way that really resonated with our audience of over 300 people.

Rob Wilk, North America Vice President of Bing Ads Sales and Service at Microsoft

Best session at the conference.Absolutely brilliant presenter….Dynamic speaker with amazing data-driven content. Inspiring…Her speech made me think of my work in a new perspective….Probably the richest content I’ve heard during the entire conference, wonderful! …I can take back a lot of info she presented and implement it in my company….Best session I attended this year.

Society of HR Managers (SHRM)

I absolutely loved the webinar – I had put some self-development time aside today. I rarely do that.  But I was so pleased I did. Margaret was just brilliant.

Exeter Business School

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