Margaret Heffernan Profile

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.

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      • 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 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 Speaking Videos

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Margaret Heffernan's Speech Descriptions

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.


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.

Wilful Blindness: How we ignore the obvious at our peril was shortlisted for the FT Best Business Book award and was described as “one of the most important books of the decade.” Dr Heffernan has talked about this work to organizations as diverse as healthcare, financial services, schools, government bodies, pychologists, engineers and designers.

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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.

A Bigger Prize won the Transmission Prize in 2015 for the great communication of important ideas. Dr Heffernan has talked about this work to broadcasters, sports teams, large and small corporations, universities and business schools.

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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.

Uncharted is being published in February 2020 in the UK and September 2020 in the US. Be prepared….


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.

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Books by Margaret Heffernan:

    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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