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CEO, entrepreneur, and author Margaret Heffernan doesn’t play the game; she writes the rules. The experienced television writer, producer, and business woman helps leaders and teams turn insight into action and conflicts into productivity.

Margaret worked for BBC for thirteen years writing, directing, producing and commissioning dozens of documentaries and dramas. Some of her best known projects include Out of the Doll’s House, a groundbreaking look at women’s history in the 20th century, and a thirteen part series on the French Revolution which featured Alan Rickman and Alfred Molina, among many other acclaimed talents. In her post-BBC career she worked, bought, sold and ran businesses for CMGI, serving as Chief Executive of iCast Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and Information Corporation. In the UK, she ran Marlin Gas Trading Ltd. and IPPA, “the most formidable lobbying organization in England.”

Margaret’s books examine how our blinds spots and a tendency to go with the flow have dire consequences. She is the author of eight books including Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Own Peril and her most recent work, Beyond Measure which outlines small steps anyone can take to make their workplace a more nurturing and enjoyable environment.

Full Profile

    Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur, chief executive and author. She was born in Texas, raised in Holland and educated at Cambridge University. She worked in BBC Radio for five years where she wrote, directed, produced and commissioned dozens of documentaries and dramas. 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.

    2011 saw the publication of her third book, Willful Blindness (Simon&Schuster in the UK, Bloomsbury in the US and Doubleday in Canada) which was shortlisted for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Best Business Book award.

    She is Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship at Simmons College in Boston and Executive in Residence at Babson College. She is a Trustee of the London Library and sits on the Council of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and in the UK as well as one the boards of several private companies.

    Margaret blogs for the Huffington Post in the US and the UK, for CBSMoneywatch and for Inc.com. She was featured on television in The Secret Millionaire and on BBC Radio 4 in Changing the Rules, which won the 2008 Prowess Media Award. She has had three plays broadcast by the BBC and in 2011 has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath. She is married with two children.


Margaret Heffernan Speaker Videos Back to top

TED Talk


Margaret Heffernan shatters the common negative connotation of conflict by showcasing companies, teams, and partners that have raised productivity and spurred innovation by “daring to disagree.” In the case of scientist Alice Stewart’s 25 year campaign to stop the use of x-ray machines on pregnant women – which national health institutions and leading authorities had deemed “perfectly safe” for unborn babies - her defiance of the status quo ultimately saved lives. Today it is common knowledge in the medical world that exposure to x-rays during pregnancy can greatly increase the chance of cancer later on in babies’ lives.

While access to information is important, and already in place, Margaret stresses the need to cultivate skills, habits, talents, and moral courage to stand up for the truth. “I think we need to be teaching these skills to kids and adults at every stage of their development, if we want to have thinking organizations and a thinking society,” she summarizes.

Second TED Talk


Keynote Speech


Keynote Speech



Speeches / Speaking Engagements Back to top


Margaret Heffernan speaks to corporations, associations, universities, and education conferences about such topics as managing high-achieving talent, continuous innovation, cultivating social connections at work, and the role of leaders in serving the talent they hire. Her presentations change the way organizations perceive talent, helping them recognize and release abilities that often lie buried due to their unconventionality. She challenges audiences to think critically, take little at face value, and regularly question received wisdom so that they will make leaps in progress.

    Willful Blindness or the 20/20 Company?
    The biggest challenge we face is knowing what is happening in our companies and in our industry. Time after time, we either miss major opportunities, market shifts or warning signs. How does that happen? The disasters are often explained as ′bad apples′ but the truth is that the hardest aspect of leadership is gaining true insight into the business and the environment in which it operates. If Microsoft could miss the Internet, Pepsi could miss water and Nokia could miss smart phones, insight isn′t just about hiring smart people. It′s about understanding the obstacles to transparency and putting the structures, process and culture in place to surface mission-critical information.

    Margaret Heffernan draws on a century of psychological and organizational research, together with her own experience running companies, to investigate how business leaders can be better sighted, alert to the external and internal threats that challenge their very existence. In a provocative and entertaining presentation, she outlines the key social and neurological reasons why we can’t see what ought to be obvious, why we ignore what we most need to see and why most of those around us do likewise. With examples drawn from organizations worldwide, audiences will learn how better to manage internal intelligence and external networks to ensure that they don’t get blind-sided.

    Talent, Conformity, Culture: Getting the Best from People
    To build the best, smartest workforce requires hiring a broad range of diverse, talented individuals. But if that’s all it takes, why is it so hard to increase productivity? Why has productivity fallen for the last 50 years? Why is creativity and innovation something employees seem good at when they’re on vacation, but not when they’re at work? If they’re leaving to become entrepreneurs, why couldn’t they be inventive where they are now?

    It turns out that hiring diverse people is the easy part. Keeping them diverse, creative and engaged is the hard part. In this provocative presentation, Margaret Heffernan outlines the social, neurological and psychological reasons why we so rarely get the best out of the smart people we hire. And she proposes numerous strategies for hiring the best – and keeping them that way.

    Money and Motivation
    Does money motivate people or not? Psychology experiments prove that it does – and it doesn’t. Not much help if you’re trying to incentivize your workforce. So how does money work in organizations? What are the unintended consequences of over-pay and under-pay? What role does money play in getting the most from your people?

    In this presentation, Margaret Heffernan examines the complex psychological and neurological attitudes we display towards money and proposes ways in which it can be used more effectively to galvanize and focus the talent in your team. She argues that money is the most powerful tool that companies regularly misuse, and proposes ways to get it to work for you instead of against you.





* Please note that while this speaker’s specific speaking fee falls within the range posted above (for Continental U.S. based events), fees are subject to change. For current fee information or international event fees (which are generally 50-75% more than U.S based event fees), please contact us.

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    Willful Blindness
    Margaret Heffernan argues that the biggest threats and dangers we face are the ones we don′t see - not because they′re secret or invisible, but because we′re willfully blind. A distinguished businesswoman and writer, she examines the phenomenon and traces its imprint in our private and working lives, and within governments and organizations, and asks: What makes us prefer ignorance? What are we so afraid of? Why do some people see more than others? And how can we change? Covering everything from our choice of mates to the SEC, Bernard Madoff′s investors, the embers of BP′s refinery, the military in Afghanistan, and the dog-eat-dog world of subprime mortgage lenders, this provocative book demonstrates how failing to see--or admit to ourselves or our colleagues--the issues and problems in plain sight can ruin private lives and bring down corporations. Heffernan explains how willful blindness develops before exploring ways that institutions and individuals can combat it. In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Margaret Heffernan′s Willful Blindness is a tour de force on human behavior that will open your eyes.
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    Willful Blindness or the 20/20 Company?
    The biggest challenge we face is knowing what is happening in our companies and in our industry. Time after time, we either miss major opportunities, market shifts or warning signs. How does that happen? The disasters are often explained as ′bad apples′ but the truth is that the hardest aspect of leadership is gaining true insight into the business and the environment in which it operates. If Microsoft could miss the Internet, Pepsi could miss water and Nokia could miss smart phones, insight isn′t just about hiring smart people. It′s about understanding the obstacles to transparency and putting the structures, process and culture in place to surface mission-critical information.

    Margaret Heffernan draws on a century of psychological and organizational research, together with her own experience running companies, to investigate how business leaders can be better sighted, alert to the external and internal threats that challenge their very existence. In a provocative and entertaining presentation, she outlines the key social and neurological reasons why we can’t see what ought to be obvious, why we ignore what we most need to see and why most of those around us do likewise. With examples drawn from organizations worldwide, audiences will learn how better to manage internal intelligence and external networks to ensure that they don’t get blind-sided.

    Talent, Conformity, Culture: Getting the Best from People
    To build the best, smartest workforce requires hiring a broad range of diverse, talented individuals. But if that’s all it takes, why is it so hard to increase productivity? Why has productivity fallen for the last 50 years? Why is creativity and innovation something employees seem good at when they’re on vacation, but not when they’re at work? If they’re leaving to become entrepreneurs, why couldn’t they be inventive where they are now?

    It turns out that hiring diverse people is the easy part. Keeping them diverse, creative and engaged is the hard part. In this provocative presentation, Margaret Heffernan outlines the social, neurological and psychological reasons why we so rarely get the best out of the smart people we hire. And she proposes numerous strategies for hiring the best – and keeping them that way.

    Money and Motivation
    Does money motivate people or not? Psychology experiments prove that it does – and it doesn’t. Not much help if you’re trying to incentivize your workforce. So how does money work in organizations? What are the unintended consequences of over-pay and under-pay? What role does money play in getting the most from your people?

    In this presentation, Margaret Heffernan examines the complex psychological and neurological attitudes we display towards money and proposes ways in which it can be used more effectively to galvanize and focus the talent in your team. She argues that money is the most powerful tool that companies regularly misuse, and proposes ways to get it to work for you instead of against you.



TED Talk


Margaret Heffernan shatters the common negative connotation of conflict by showcasing companies, teams, and partners that have raised productivity and spurred innovation by “daring to disagree.” In the case of scientist Alice Stewart’s 25 year campaign to stop the use of x-ray machines on pregnant women – which national health institutions and leading authorities had deemed “perfectly safe” for unborn babies - her defiance of the status quo ultimately saved lives. Today it is common knowledge in the medical world that exposure to x-rays during pregnancy can greatly increase the chance of cancer later on in babies’ lives.

While access to information is important, and already in place, Margaret stresses the need to cultivate skills, habits, talents, and moral courage to stand up for the truth. “I think we need to be teaching these skills to kids and adults at every stage of their development, if we want to have thinking organizations and a thinking society,” she summarizes.

Second TED Talk


Keynote Speech


Keynote Speech