Margaret Heffernan

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Margaret Heffernan (born 1955)[1] is an international businesswoman and writer. She was born in Texas, raised in the Netherlands, educated at Cambridge University and settled in the UK near the city of Bath.

She is the author of four books: The Naked Truth: A Working Woman’s Manifesto about Business and What Really Matters, How She Does It (published in paperback as Women on Top), Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril and A Bigger Prize: Why Competition isn't Everything and How We Do Better. Heffernan’s articles on business leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation have appeared in Fast Company, Huffington Post, BNet, Real Business, Reader’s Digest, London Business School’s Strategy Review and on Heffernan speaks to corporations, associations, universities, and education conferences about such topics as managing high-achieving talent, continuous innovation and the role of leaders in serving the talent they hire. While Heffernan’s first two books focused on these issues as they impact women in the workplace, her overarching theme has been the need to recognize and release the talent that often lies buried inside organizations, under-valued and under-rewarded because it is unconventional. Heffernan’s voice is primarily one of critical challenge, taking little at face value and regularly questioning received wisdom.[2][third-party source needed]

Heffernan writes from direct experience. She began writing about business because 'nothing she read captured the reality of running companies.'[3] In the United States, 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 IPPA and Marlin Gas Trading Ltd. Before running her own businesses, she worked for thirteen years for the British Broadcasting Corporation where she produced a wide range of radio and television programming. Her perspective as a writer is informed by her experience of running businesses that operated in markets that were highly competitive for creative talent. While her work has garnered respect and praise from academics, she has also secured serious attention from leading executives who value academic insight only insofar as it is tested by real world leadership.[4]

She is the Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Bath's School of Management and a Visiting Professor at Simmons College School of Management.[citation needed]


The Naked Truth[edit]

UK Front Cover for The Naked Truth

The Naked Truth: A Working Woman’s Manifesto about Business and What Really Matters was published in 2004, just as issues surrounding women at work started to return to the fore. The book looked at the classic barriers to women’s advancement and collected experiences and advice from successful business women who had overcome them. In particular, the book examined women’s attitudes to power and how they define and use power differently from men. The book argued that whereas men see power as expressed through personal or organizational dominance, women see power as derived from orchestration. Men express ambition as defined by getting to the top, whereas women see ambition as the ability to live and work as they please. The book concludes by arguing that what women bring to the workplace is distinctive and highly suited to the non-linear complexities of modern business.[5][third-party source needed]

Women On Top[edit]

How She Does It (republished in paperback as Women On Top) can be seen as the sequel to The Naked Truth insofar as it looks at women who have decided to eschew the struggle to succeed within traditional, male-dominated organizations in favor of running their own companies. The book examines the statistics underlying the growth and outsize success of women-owned businesses to ask: how is it that women achieve so much more when they get so much less in the way of institutional support and funding? This leads to an examination of women’s motivation, their neurological and social advantages, choice of markets, leadership styles, use of networks and advisors and their different approaches to mergers, acquisitions and exits. In effect, the book argues that women’s different motivations, thinking and leading styles specifically position them for entrepreneurial success. But much of what makes them succeed are approaches and strategies which men could also emulate if they understood how successful they are. The book concludes by arguing that women set a particularly high standard for business success which might provide a powerful antidote to some of the failed business cultures of the past.[6]

Willful Blindness[edit]

UK Front Cover for Wilful Blindness

Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril was published in 2011. In her latest book, 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. 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?

Examining examples of willful blindness in the Catholic Church, the SEC, Nazi Germany, Bernard Madoff’s investors, BP’s safety record, the military in Afghanistan and the dog-eat-dog world of subprime mortgage lenders, the 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. The book explores how willful blindness develops and then goes on to outline some of the mechanisms, structures and strategies that institutions and individuals can use to combat it. In its wide use of psychological research and examples from history, the book has been compared to work by Malcolm Gladwell and Nassim Nicholas Taleb.[7][not in citation given]

A Bigger Prize[edit]

Her book, A Bigger Prize: Why Competition isn't Everything and How We Do Better, published in the UK on February 27th 2014, looks at the perils of competition and how this over emphasis on competing is damaging our society in everything from big business all the way down to everyday family life.

In A Bigger Prize Heffernan examines the competition culture that is inherent in life today. Instead of breeding innovation, new ideas and inspiring us to do better, competition regularly produces instead more cases of fraud, cheating, stress and inequality whilst suffocating the creative instinct we desperately need to nurture. Burn outs, scandals and poor ethics abound in the race to be the best.

So what can we do instead she asks? By speaking to scientists, musicians, athletes, entrepreneurs and executives Heffernan has found a plethora of examples of individuals and organisations who have implemented creative, cooperative ways of working together. Methods which don't set people against each other but which establish supportive environments that lead to success and happiness. "They are the real winners, sharing a bigger prize."


Heffernan 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.

In 2001 her "Tear Down the Wall" campaign against AOL won the Silver SABRE award for public relations and in 2008 her documentary for BBC Radio 4 on the rise of female entrepreneurship, Changing the Rules, won the Prowess Media Award.

Her two radio plays about Enron; Power Play, were broadcast on Radio 4 and nominated for a Sony award.

In 2011, Wilful Blindness was a finalist for the FT Best Business Book award.

Power Play[edit]

Power Play was a 2-part drama about Enron commissioned and broadcast by the BBC.[8] The first play dramatized the scandal of fixing energy prices in California, while the second play postulated that the death of Ken Lay, after being found guilty but before being sentenced, was caused by his recognition that he had been willfully blind to the corruption at the heart of Enron.

Secret Millionaire[edit]

In 2008, Heffernan appeared in the British Channel 4’s series Secret Millionaire, in which successful entrepreneurs go ‘under cover’ to identify and support community heroes. In her episode, Heffernan asked how any individual could choose which people, causes and organizations to support when so many are so needy. Ultimately, she gave money to the Bright Waters Laundry and a carnival troupe, both based in Nottingham.[9]


In June 2012 Heffernan spoke at TEDglobal. Her talk 'Dare to Disagree' [10] illustrates the role that debate and disconfirmation play in the development of great research teams and businesses.

In March 2013 she gave another talk for TED at TEDxDanudia, this time concentrating on the dangers of wilful blindness.[11]

Background and education[edit]

Heffernan was born in Texas, grew up in the Netherlands, and received an MA from Cambridge University.[3] She was also awarded an Honorary Degree from the University of Bath in 2011.[12] She now lives on the outskirts of Bath with her husband and their two children.


Margaret Heffernan talks about Willful Blindness on Bookbits radio.



External links[edit]