It was an absolute delight to see Margaret Heffernan, author and entrepreneur, at Watershed on 25 May, and be inspired by her speech on driving change.

Stimulated by her extraordinary TED talk on creative conflict, Heffernan subsequently dove deeper into the subject, and the result was her recent brainchild, Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes, which she discussed enthusiastically with the Bristol audience.

Heffernan began with a story about the scientist Alice Stewart. Intrigued by results that showed how many childhood cancers originated in children of affluent families, Stewart carried out extensive research only to discover that the reason was foetal damage caused by medical X-rays during pregnancies. Nevertheless, Heffernan explained, it took 25 years for doctors to stop this practice. A small change, she said, can sometimes be lethal.

Heffernan then discussed ways of creating an environment/culture in our workplaces that encourages people to speak up, thus making it safe to have arguments. Giving numerous real-life and personal examples of her extensive business career, Heffernan underlined the importance of building trust, also known as ‘social capital’, which has proved far more efficient than competition and is routinely underestimated.


Heffernan went on to say that true creativity, innovation, and great ideas only occur in conditions of creative conflict where everyone is equally engaged and truly cares for improvement. Therefore, it should be the employer’s responsibility to nurture an atmosphere where nobody will be afraid to raise their voice and have their say. She mentioned zero-hour contracts as one company inefficiency, saying that these result in employees with zero commitment and zero creativity.

Heffernan also recounted her theory regarding ‘quiet time’ at work. Explaining the findings of an innovative management consultant, she pointed to two different types of work, both equally important: quiet time, or the real work, as she calls it, when things actually get done, and the numerous interruptions, calls, queries, meetings and such that constitute the social capital, but take away the whole energy.

She argued in favour of ensuring uninterrupted time to do genuine work, without the burden of multi-tasking, as well as time for mind-wandering, when the mind is switched off from external stimulations and yet brings forth original ideas – the paradox of creativity.

Heffernan wrapped up her inspiring talk by telling the audience of the side effects of working long hours that destroy our cognitive capacities, and urged the audience to question each solution, choice and decision, pin-pointing the importance of asking the outstanding question that will change things slightly, but impact greatly.

Images: Ivana Galapceva


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