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What can business learn from crises?

16 February 2021

April French Furnell

In her latest book, Uncharted, Margaret Heffernan – CEO, mentor, TED speaker with +12million views – presents uncertainty as a fuel for change. Written pre-COVID, there are many lessons to be learnt by businesses in this current crisis and opportunities to be seized upon.

Margaret urges that the current crisis should be used as an incubator for change. She believes that, “It’s in the middle of a crisis (when we’re surrounded by uncertainty) that we can start imagining the change we want, and we can most realistically plan a future with greater diversity, equality, and ethnic justice. The best opportunity for organisations to change at a deep level is right now”.

Uncharted offers readers sharp insight and inspirational examples of how people adapt and flourish by thinking humanely and creatively in the face of uncertainty.

Extract from Uncharted

“Because the future is unknowable, the best we can hope for are probabilities – which themselves may be incorrect. Even professional statisticians and mathematicians find probabilities counterintuitive and difficult, at odds with gut instinct.

For those of us who are not super-forecasters, this leaves us with a dilemma. Which forecasters should we trust? If by ‘trust’ we mean an absolute belief that we’d stake our lives on, the answer is: nobody. Not our neighbours. Not our boss. Not our financial advisor. Not corporate propagandists. And not ourselves. We could and should treat predictions as hypotheses and ask better questions of ourselves: if there is vested interest, where does it lie? What’s at stake? What am I being sold? Is this propaganda, bad science, careerism or entertainment? Does the hypothesis emanate from individuals working alone or from a team? What’s their track record? How far out are they looking? What are the counterarguments? How wide is the range of opinion? What’s the agenda? Only when we kick our addiction to prediction do we stop being spectators and become creative participants in our own future.

The future is uncharted and life remains uncertain. But doubt is so uncomfortable that people will invest a great deal to eliminate it, as the founding fathers of forecasting discovered. They tried and failed to map the unknown, and uncertainty persists throughout their story even to this day. While Fisher lived until he was eighty, Babson to ninety and Persons to fifty-nine, neither they nor we will ever know whether their cold air or chewing regimens extended their lives. We don’t even know whether they had TB at all, because no reliable test for the disease was commercially available at the time each received the terrifying diagnosis. We know that there’s a high probability that they were infected, and we know that they thought they were. That belief is a powerful motivator is what gives prediction its power.”

 

The book can be purchased here: https://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/books/Uncharted/Margaret-Heffernan/97...

 

About the Author

Born in Texas, raised in Holland and educated at Cambridge University, 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, 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 TED talks have been seen by over twelve 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 hardback in 2020. It quickly became a bestseller and was nominated for the Financial Times Best Business Book award.

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.

 

www.mheffernan.com

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