Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future
Avid Reader Press (September 2020)
“Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison
I selected the Edison assertion to serve as the title of this brief commentary because it helps us to understand and appreciate Margaret Heffernan’s immense contributions to thought leadership throughout the global business world.
Heffernan is an evidence-driven pragmatist whose intellectual curiosity seems to be relentless as she pursues answers to especially important questions. For her, insights and visions with regard to “what could be” are at best speculations, and have little (if any) value unless and until subjected to a crucible of verification, then made a reality.
For example, consider what the subtitles of these five books suggest. All of them were published prior to Uncharted.
o How are women entrepreneurs rewriting the rules of business success? (Women on Top, 2018)
o How and why can small gestures have a big impact? (Beyond Measure, 2015)
o How to outperform the competition? (A Bigger Prize, 2014)
o Why do we ignore the obvious at our peril? (Willful Blindness, 2011)
o What really matters to women in business? (The Naked Truth, 2004)
As indicated, these are the types of questions that Heffernan is determined to answer. Then she writes a book in which she shares what she learned from wide and deep research in combination with a rigorous evaluation of what the research reveals. The same is true of her latest book: How to navigate the future?
In her exceptionally informative Introduction, Heffernan offers several insights that guide and inform a thoughtful reading of Uncharted. For example: “Accepting the unknowable is where action begins. Experiments are ideal for complex environments. The work of artists endures because they dare to imagine what they can’t see and allow their minds to leave predetermined paths; we may not all be artists, but we need their independence and stamina.”
Here’s another: “We have a huge capacity for invention — if we use it. We have limitless talent for questions and exploration — if we develop it. We can imagine what we’ve never seen before — if we practice. Lose those gifts and we are adrift. Hone and develop them and we can make any future we choose.”
It is characteristic of the thrust and flavor of Heffernan’s resilient and relentless mind that she includes in each of her six books dozens of mini-commentaries such as these. They are directly or indirectly relevant to key insights. She thinks in terms of context, frame of reference. Experimentation and imagination are only two of several dozen business topics of special interest to her. I love to tag along as she explores and examines whatever catches her eye.
Long ago, Peter Drucker suggested, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Heffernan agrees. “Many of the most inspiring people and stories start with uncertainty, are saturated with doubt, yet arrive triumphant at places in life they could not see when they set out. Their successes are deeply human, derived from curiosity, imagination, and not a little bravery. They are prepared to navigate the unknown in pursuit of the ill-defined because they knew that the only way to know the future is to make it.”
To Margaret Heffernan’s great credit, as is also true of her other published works, the material in Uncharted helps prepare leaders to create, then navigate a future that will be most beneficial to their organization, whatever its size and nature it may be.” The future will always be uncharted but it is made by those active enough to explore it, with the stamina and imagination not to give up on ourselves or each other.”
In this context, I am again reminded of the final lines in Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses: