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Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future

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From former CEO and popular TED speaker Margaret Heffernan comes a timely and enlightening book that equips you with the tools you need to face the future with confidence and courage.

How can we think about the future? What do we need to do—and who do we need to be?

In her bold and invigorating new book, distinguished businesswoman and author Margaret Heffernan explores the people and organizations who aren’t daunted by uncertainty.

We are addicted to prediction, desperate for certainty about the future. But the complexity of modern life won’t provide that; experts in forecasting are reluctant to look more than 400 days out. History doesn’t repeat itself and even genetics won’t tell you everything you want to know. Tomorrow remains uncharted territory, but Heffernan demonstrates how we can forge ahead with agility.

Drawing on a wide array of people and places, Uncharted traces long-term projects that shrewdly evolved over generations to meet the unpredictable challenges of every new age. Heffernan also looks at radical exercises and experiments that redefined standard practices by embracing different perspectives and testing fresh approaches. Preparing to confront a variable future provides the antidote to passivity and prediction.

Ranging freely through history and from business to science, government to friendships, this refreshing book challenges us to mine our own creativity and humanity for the capacity to create the futures we want and can believe in.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published February 20, 2020

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About the author

Margaret Heffernan

22 books150 followers
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.

Her third book, Wilful Blindness (Simon&Schuster in the UK, Bloomsbury in the US, Doubleday in Canada) was a finalist for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Best Business Book award and, in 2014, the Financial Times named it one of its "best business books of the decade.” Her next book A Bigger Prize (Simon&Schuster in the UK, Public Affairs in the US and Doubleday in Canada) won the Transmission Prize. Her most recent book Beyond Measure : The Big Impact of Small Changes was published in 2015. Her TED talks have been seen by over 5 million people. She has been invited to speak at all of the world’s leading financial services businesses, the leading FTSE and S&P corporations as well as the world’s most successful sports teams. She continues to advise private and public businesses, to mentor senior and chief executives and to write for the Financial Times and Huffington Post.

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5 stars
87 (23%)
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134 (36%)
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96 (26%)
2 stars
39 (10%)
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8 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 50 reviews
531 reviews19 followers
April 19, 2020
A timely read, about tackling uncertainty. A quick read because Heffernan has an engaging writing style. But I found it somewhat unsatisfying. The structure seemed incoherent and made the argument difficult to follow. She has conducted many interviews but it was not clear how these articulated with her project. Her use of illustrative cases is more effective when analysing organisations than individuals.

Nevertheless, I found her account of the global initiatives addressing areas of uncertainty reassuring: even though they have not prevented the overwhelming current crisis, there is some hope that these groups are well placed to build on lessons learned.
Profile Image for Joshua Gutman.
32 reviews7 followers
October 18, 2020
It was pretty uncanny how the last chapter of the book talks about pandemic preparedness (it's actually a more optimistic take than how things panned out) even though the book was published in February of 2020. It even specifically mentions social intervention in relation to the 1918 flu and how MERS-like and SARS-like viruses were among the ones that were most important to be prepared for.
Profile Image for Nathan.
234 reviews1 follower
October 27, 2020
Great book, not the greatest. Had some very interesting ideas, especially scenario planning. Really drives home the point that once you accept that no one knows what is going to happen in the future, then you can start asking better questions.
Profile Image for Runsheng Li.
47 reviews1 follower
December 21, 2021
A roller coaster ride of critical reasoning on battling and getting used to the certainty of the uncertain.

The challenge for me is that Hefferman is playing devil’s advocate so hard her counter argument is arguing against her other counter argument 3 chapters ago.

However, it’s a timely read for a student of history and economics in a time of change.
Profile Image for Terry Pearce.
292 reviews28 followers
March 17, 2021
When she gets in storytelling mode, about people, this author is a joy to hear. I read somewhere that this book started life as a collection of journalistic essays. That makes sense, if true. But if so I kinda wish it had stayed there. The material that is I suspect designed to knit these disparate essays into a whole is sometimes shockingly bad. She has some extremely reactionary commentary, littered with straw men, about pretty much every use of technology, particularly algorithms and extending human life. I'm not about to jump on the 'driverless cars are perfect' train or the transhumanist train, certainly not without qualification, but there are far more nuanced critiques of the failings of the most extreme versions of these future visions than this book is able to offer. Algorithms are evil, sometimes seems like the basic message. I recommend checking out someone like Hannah Fry for an infinitely more nuanced view of how algorithms can be used for good or ill, and the responsibilities on us to help get it right.

But you could say those things are not the point of this book. 'How to Navigate the Future' is the title. And there are some interesting case studies about groups and initiatives that eschewed firm predictions and embraced uncertainty and agency and democracy, and found excellent ways to navigate their future. Unfortunately, when you peel that all back to the lessons we can take away, it mostly boils down to what you could learn in the Wikipedia entry on Complexity, and the idea that when you engage and involve people more, you get decisions that work better for them. Many of the case studies, while engaging, are difficult to see how to generalise (e.g. the scientific projects such as CERN which spit out unintended products, but that's what science *does*). Particularly for business. I'm one of the first of the critics of how business is often conducted in latter-day capitalism, but this book doesn't offer much tht will convince anybody to change anything.

I'm being quite critical, but unusually for a 2-star book, I finished it, and that's because, again, when she is telling the stories of people and their unpredictable lives, it's very engaging, and warm, and worthwhile. She has some interesting thoughts about the benefits of old age and the ways people can become engaged in transcendant projects. I just wish she didn't have to always scale it up to what she imagines is a barnstorming and rousing crescendo of criticism, that usually fails to hit the mark and comes off as poorly-researched.
Profile Image for Daniel.
620 reviews82 followers
September 22, 2020
This book is about how to map the future together.

1. The future is unknowable. Even Super predictors are wrong a lot of times. Pundits perform even worse, and the more the fame, the worse the prediction. Even then, there is a huge market for predictions because humans crave certainty (even if it is wrong)

2. To prepare for the unpredictable future, we need to have strong institutions, not necessarily of the government. We need to be humble, nimble and build up solidarity with our groups. Think of all the possible scenarios. Get a wide range of input from CEO to the client/potential victim. Be robust by having excess capacity. Store all seeds in Norway i case of apocalypse. Encourage many different teams to come up with different analyses. Have faith, and be willing to invest without certain benefits like CERN (CERN did bring about the internet and many other spin-offs).

This book has good points but the styles of different chapters are rather different and some seemed quite irrelevant. Nonetheless an important book.
Profile Image for John Crippen.
430 reviews2 followers
October 10, 2020
I'm surprised this title wasn't published by HBR Press. I don't know How to Navigate the Future, but I have read a lot of very interesting stories now. One good thing about the book was that it prompted me to pick back up a study of scenario planning (only covered in one chapter here). And for the record, I would give Russ Roberts' EconTalk interview with the author four stars!
Profile Image for Frank Calberg.
159 reviews37 followers
June 21, 2021
Takeaways from reading the book:

What is positive about later stages in life?
- Page 274: Older people know what they like and dislike and don't waste time.
- Page 277: Later stages in life can become periods of rich achievement, continued exploration and deep satisfaction.
- Page 293: When people are dying, they are often more themselves than ever.

What can nurses and doctors do to help elderly people even better?
- Page 126: Nurses, who work via the Buurtzorg network, learn by trying out ideas. They don't expect perfection. However, they believe that by not being afraid of failing, better ideas and experiments emerge.
- Page 130: As an alternative to communicating with people at offices of doctors, what if doctors also communicate with people at homes, where people live as well as via Internet? In this regard, what if people decide when and where they need help? When you reduce anxiety by giving people control, people will make better decisions.
- Page 135: When doctors ask "Is there anything else you want to talk about?", people say no. When doctors ask "Is there something else you want to talk about today?", people talk.
- Page 289: For Cecile Saunders, the founder of the hospice movement, the focus needs to be on the whole life of a patient - not on the disease. Dying cannot and should not be considered in isolation.
- Page 289: For hospice workers, dying well is not a matter of biology but of biography. When you deal with dying, important is to also think of people, who are left behind. Positive memories of parents and grandparents, which children can take with them into the future, are important.
- Page 289: At St. Margaret's, every child and dying parent gets an animal.
- Page 290: Talk to loved ones about where you want to die, who you want to be with, how much pain relief you want as well as what activities or objects should be a part of your life until the end.
- Page 289: At St. Margaret's, fresh flowers are everywhere.
- Page 292: For Cecile Saunders, founder of the hospice movement, a good death requires respect for patient judgement and the alleviation of all forms of pain.
- Page 293: When people plan how they want to die and talk to people about it, the dying person becomes power over what happens to him or her. This leaves survivors better able to carry positive memories into the future.

What happens when we have more data and more automation?
- Page 6: The automation paradox is that the skills we automate, we lose. 3 examples: 1. The more we use GPS, the more parts of our brain responsible for navigation and memory shrink, and the less we know our neighborhoods. 2. The more we depend on machines thinking for us, the less good we become at thinking for ourselves. 3. The fewer decisions we make, the less good we become at making decisions.
- Page 160: With more data, decision-making gets harder because there is more bad data, and it is harder to distinguish noise from signal.
- Page 319: The more we surrender to the authority of devices, the less independent and the less imaginative our minds become. Nothing could be more dangerous than to constrain imagination, freedom and creativity.
- Page 319: The more we meet people we are programmed to like, the less we can cope with those who are different. And the less compassion we need, the less compassion we have.

What can you do to become an artist at what you do?
- Page 194: Try out things. That's how children learn. Because it often looks like play, it is frequently misinterpreted as infantile.
- Page 197: Ask better questions. That is what art is about. Art is not about defining answers / solutions.
- Page 200: Find quiet spaces where you can think.
- Page 200: Free time - away from the office, meetings, and rules - is essential for mind wandering.
- Page 200: Take the time to think about what is missing in the world and what it means.
- Page 202: Think for yourself.

How do people working for CERN work?
- Page 210: Many people working for CERN questioned investments aimed at developing the Internet. A supervisor's comment "vague - but interesting" gave Tim Berners-Lee the backing he sought.
- Page 210: Experiments done via the CERN innovation community are designed by young scientists, because that's where expertise is.
- Page 210: Parts of machines used at CERN are built by 80-90 institutions around the world - each taking responsibility for building their unique part. Centralizing does not work because it's too complex.
- Page 212: Everything done via the CERN network has never been done before. Therefore there cannot be any rules about how to do it.
- Page 212: Engineers demand detail and specificity. Physicists have to ensure that the theoretical aspiration of an experiment is not compromised.
- Page 215: Those, who do best, accept that nobody knows all the answers.
- Page 217: CERN was born with one principle that has remained constant: The pursuit of particle physics knowledge on a global scale.
Profile Image for Sergio Caredda.
260 reviews14 followers
October 12, 2020
Uncharted è un libro sul Futuro, che spiega perchè sia in fondo impossibile prevederlo. Le armi per poter affrontare l'incertezza sono la creatiuvità e le nostre capacità di resilienza e adattabilità. Perché quindi le nostre organizzazioni cercando di ridurre tutto attraverso processi di previsione che non funzionano?
Un libro pieno di esempio, forse anche troppo ricco di contenuti a volte non pienamente coerenti, ma che offrono un'ottima chiave di lettura, anche a livello individuale.
Profile Image for Tanya.
20 reviews6 followers
September 8, 2022
правило #1. не поддавайся на уговоры коллег из серии: почитай, тебе точно понравится.
99 reviews11 followers
May 24, 2020
I received a digital pre-publication galley of “Uncharted,” in exchange for a fair review. Margaret Heffernan provides us with a sage and engaging book that is meant to make us more thoughtful and resilient as we confront the future. In the introduction she brilliantly remarks that “We have moved from a complicated world to a complex one.” Complicated scenarios, she argues, follow rules and ultimately can be mastered with analytical thinking. Complex situations are non-linear where small effects may produce large consequences. And throughout the book, her examples typify how seemingly random events can have a significant impact on outcomes.

I can imagine a type of reader thinking, “What? There is no defined, evidence-based sociological or leadership studies that inform a 5-step decision-tree so that your decisions can be 14.7% better?” Alas, this is not the book to feign precision-like estimates to trick us into believing life and all its attendant complexity can be measured like progression on a Gantt chart. A great quote that comes from Paul Krugman, a Noble Prize winner in Economics, is “he thought the data left out of his models might be more important than the data that went in.” This makes the book’s more credible in my opinion. She uses historical events, personal stories and contemporary issues to buttress her main contention that “ordinary people who (are) open-minded, educated, prepared to change their minds, humble and attentive (can) gain real insight and awareness...”

The most revelatory and engaging chapter to me derives from a Stephen Hawking phrase —cathedral project— which he describes as “humanity’s attempt to bridge heaven and earth.” Heffernan writes, “Like the great medieval cathedrals of Europe, they are destined to last longer than a human lifetime, to adapt to changing tastes and technologies, to endure long into the future as symbols of faith and human imagination.” In this chapter, the main focus is CERN (the Center for European Nuclear Research) and its “search for human knowledge” guided by the horrors of World War II in hopes that “working together could be one way to stop the world falling apart again.” Despite the brilliant experiments and findings that have come from this project, Heffernan argues that its success wasn’t due to the “lone genius,” but rather harnessing the collective brilliance of multi-national researchers working together on the voyage to discovery that led to subsequent practical applications like the World Wide Web.

Another important theme of the book is the refutation that Silicon Valley and its religion of big data, AI, deep-learning, etc. will conquer the need for human ingenuity and adaptability. There is a tasty takedown of the lunacy of high profile tech evangelists who believe mortality will be conquered over the next few decades. In fact, we harm our ability to overcome complex problems by outsourcing our minds to technology—“The more we surrender to the authority of devices, the less independent and imaginative our minds becomes, just when we need them most... In a complex world, replete with contingency and uncertainty, nothing could be more dangerous than to constrain imagination, freedom and creativity.”

I encourage all general interest readers to read this book. This book doesn’t purport to tell you how to solve a specific personal, business or societal problem, but it does give one excellent insights about how to approach thinking about them so that you can ask better questions that may eventually lead to breakthrough insights.
Profile Image for Peter.
60 reviews1 follower
May 16, 2021
I loved Margaret Heffernan's Wilful Blindness and she is a very good public speaker but something seems to have gone very wrong here. I assume the publishers chose the subtitle but it's entirely misleading. Heffernan's point seems to be that the future is entirely unpredictable and that we should focus more on human capabilities and relationships and give up on trying to work out what might happen. Up to a point, that's fine (literally nobody thinks you can predict the future) but Uncharted is completely one-sided, dismissing any attempts to "map the future" with little evidence and no subtlety. It's clear that Heffernan has made up her mind from the outset and the book reads like a polemic.

Heffernan loves artists, likes big picture pure scientists, dislikes politicians and loathes business executives ("fearful and stale"). Or maybe not; she later celebrates some businesspeople, including, curiously, the management of Barings at the time it failed - it's all a bit confusing. But she reserves particular ire for technology, especially anything that smacks of AI ("demeaning to human intelligence" - really?) and for anyone looking to extend human life. This is truly bizarre. Whilst she has some excellent and thoughtful things to say about accepting death, it's surely not something we should be eager for. The low point of the book is her relation of an interview with life-extending enthusiast Aubrey de Grey. This seems to have been a set up so that she can mock and deride him. In the audiobook, which she narrates herself, she virtually snarls with derision and even remarks that de Grey's work is funded by an inheritance from his mother, a point both irrelevant and frankly cruel.

There are some great stories about individuals in the book, even inspiring ones. It's just not always clear how they tie into her main theme. However, it's undermined by a very journalistic style that's almost entirely dependent on interviews, including (personal bugbear) irrelevant detail about peoples' appearance or background.

There is a lack of proper research on important topics, such as complexity theory and risk management. This leads her badly astray. For example, pandemics (which she touches on twice) are predictable. Not exactly what or when, but certainly that they will happen from time to time and that there will be general patterns in the data.

Ultimately, this is a strangely pessimistic and conservative book in many ways, even while it celebrates aspects of human ingenuity and fortitude.
Profile Image for Ben Pratt.
12 reviews4 followers
November 29, 2020
Margaret Heffernan is on my short list of favorite non-fiction writers. In this book, her focus is on the future and how to more effectively navigate it given our discomfort with uncertainty and the narrowness of our individual experience. It’s a timely topic given the increasing rate of technological change and its impact on our lives, livelihoods, and society.

The entire book is brilliant. It’s perhaps more a collection of independent essays, but there is an arc over the extended sequence, and it’s held together by the title’s theme. This makes the reading easier in my opinion because you can dive into a chapter and absorb it whole, put the book down for a while to reflect, and then return later without losing the continuity.

The most valuable chapter, for me, was “Think Like an Artist.” An intellectual tuning fork was set off in my head that made several seemingly disparate ideas, experiences, and emotions resonate clearly together. The insights I took away are helping me more intentionally integrate the business professional and artistic parts of my life.

Heffernan has a talent for weaving you into an immersive discovery process on complex topics, guiding the weft of experiential threads over and under the warp of supporting theoretical structures so that the emerging tapestry becomes clear and helpful.

That’s not to suggest it’s easy. She is not one to tell a reader what or how to think. She will likely challenge your paradigms and any prevailing wisdom you might take for granted. She is more field guide than lecturer - valuing clarity over explanation - respecting the reader’s intelligence while honoring the paradoxes and trade offs of complex issues. At times you’ll be annoyed, confused, and frustrated - maybe even angry - because she makes you engage. She makes you think and struggle with important ideas. She makes you question your assumptions and values.

It’s worth it.

Profile Image for Remah Jane.
42 reviews1 follower
April 10, 2021
Heffernan encourages the implementation of experimentation and curiosity in the search for solutions. She lays out examples of this practice, while providing an artistic review of success through this approach. The book was described as a method for navigating the future, but it is applicable on an individual, micro scale as well.
Profile Image for Margaret.
Author 1 book
June 29, 2021
I read this for my Strategy class. Loved a couple things about it: How forecasting is worthless! How if you use navigation apps the parts of your brain involved in direction-finding, etc., shrink! It's refreshing to read an author who points out that tech isn't be-all, end-all, it's just a tool. But our brains are the ultimate arbiter. Let's use them more, not less.
Profile Image for Sebastian.
123 reviews5 followers
March 7, 2022
The world is so complex that no one man, no one nation can handle it's problems. The author is describing those rare grand projects in which humanity decided to act as a whole and abandoned national egos. It also shows how crisis facilitates change. It's high time we worked together as a species and not against one another.
124 reviews9 followers
April 3, 2021
This was good, and I recommend it to anyone struggling with our currently more-uncertain-than-usual world. It challenged some long automatically-held notions of mine, and had a great deal of interesting information. The idea that you can forecast the future from the past is chief among challenged notions, and as I see now, rightly so: even if you can control a lot about two situations (people, money, laws) so that they're similar, people change, causing the reactions to change.

Definitely read this version; the post script at the end talking through some of the stories of the covid-19 pandemic over its first year is incredibly interesting - and I learned quite a bit that I didn't know.

She talks about several epidemics throughout the book, though this was written pre-covid-19. Epidemics are always a time of uncertainty, so their stories lent themselves to her point. Even though I've lived through the AIDS epidemic, I knew very little about it, really. The discussion on the struggles there was hard to read, but really educational. Reading it in March 2021, having received my first covid vaccination after over half the UK had also done, a little over a year after covid-19 emerged, I was just gobsmacked at the difference in response. Fifteen years before an effective treatment was found in the AIDS epidemic, versus this.

I felt compelled to highlight passages, something I've perhaps never done in a non-textbook. I will share these nuggets gradually - there is much food for thought and uplifting snippets throughout the book. I believe I'll need to read this book at least twice to really get it all.

Part one was a bit rough, and I felt it needed a better editor. There were interesting stories interspersed with lots of facts, but they weren't really cohesively woven together. Do either persevere or skip it; parts two and three are well worth a read. They're also a lot more optimistic. Overall, the book left me feeling hopeful and optimistic about the future, which in the post-covid times is so very full of uncertainty. This book's helped me to come to terms with not needing to be able to map out the future, which is so incredibly helpful in 2021!
Profile Image for Manu.
358 reviews49 followers
October 11, 2021
From the time imagination and projection became a part of our survival toolkit, our species has been finding more and more ways to be certain. But as the world becomes increasingly complex, certainty is more difficult to find. 'We live in a world of irreducible uncertainty'. So how does one think about the future, at not just the individual level, but at organisation, societal and civilisational levels? Margaret Heffernan moves through history, business narratives, science, and her own relationships to offer perspectives.
The book is divided into three sections to take us through multiple concepts. The first section uses history to set the context for our 'addiction to prediction'. We convert history into smooth flows of continuity and manifest destiny whereas events weren't inevitable but a series of choices, complex and contingent. In addition to pointing out how even professional mathematicians find probability counterintuitive, she also shows how we quickly accept the propaganda of predictions and 'leave ourselves open to those who profit by influencing our behaviour'. Even in our individual lives, everything from personality tests (MBTI) to genetic profiling is used to typecast despite humans being complex. The big danger is in confusing complex systems for a complicated process. The lessons in this section is that neither history nor genetics nor models can say with certainty how the future will unfold, and what we lose when we try to automate our way into efficiency is the system's robustness.
The second section has a bunch of examples on how people, companies and societies have navigated the future. It brings out the importance of experiments, scenario planning, and creating a shared understanding. Scenarios 'illuminate the contingencies, contradictions and trade-offs of the real world, where no one interest or single perspective is in control'. At an individual level, there are some excellent examples of artists whose projects are defined by uncertainty. The Future Library was one I found very interesting - Katie Peterson has planted a thousand trees in a forest outside Oslo. Once a year, for a hundred years, authors will submit manuscripts commissioned for the book. It could be poems, stories, a novel, or even a sentence, but no one else can read it until a hundred years from now! This approach is in stark contrast to the 'brand you' concept of fixed positioning. At a broader level, there are examples of 'cathedral projects' like CERN, whose by-products have revolutionised multiple industries, and yes, given us the internet too! The Human Genome Project is another example. They are destined to last longer than a single human lifespan, and have to adapt to changing needs, tastes and technologies, relying on human imagination and the willingness to explore, to succeed. 'They are voyages of discovery in uncharted territory.'
The final section is all about the importance of being human, and coming full circle, how we can prepare ourselves better for the future. Using examples of individuals, companies like Nokia, and a civilisational crisis like AIDS, the author highlights how human relationships helps us solve problems which are uncertain even from a 'where to begin' perspective. Human ingenuity manages to create emergent solutions. The penultimate chapter is a fantastic presentation of death as a feature, not a bug, and treats it with dignity and respect.
This is a book that creates an excellent narrative for the times. While we extoll AI and its ability to make our lives better, the focus here is the human ability to ask better questions, share ideas, and find solutions. In our search for efficiency and metrics, we tend to forget the creativity and imagination prowess of the human mind that has brought us so far. There are no readymade solutions in the book to tackle an uncertain future, and that is the precise point it makes. It offers perspectives and possible approaches, and despite the tough and diverse subjects it deals in, is optimistic and very accessible.
Profile Image for David D.  Knapp, Ph.D..
405 reviews6 followers
March 11, 2021
I discovered Margaret Heffernan through her TED talks, which I've always enjoyed watching. In those talks, she articulates views on systems thinking, complexity, and the leadership skills necessary to lead our species effectively now and in the future - all of which align closely to my own thoughts on those subjects. Therefore, I was excited to read this work.

As in her TED talks, the content of this book was solid. She supports her thoughts on the topic of how we can best create the future we want (rather than just predict the future) with countless examples and illustrations. But therein also lies the biggest weakness of the book: its dense writing style.

In many ways, I had the same reaction to this book as I did to Brené Brown's "Dare to Lead." The content was wonderful, but it was presented in such a detailed, dense way that I found myself constantly thinking: "okay, I got it...can we move on?" This actually got better as the book went on - Chapter 9: Who Wants to Live Forever? was particularly well-written and easy-to-read. I wish more of them had been like that.

Interestingly, Ms. Heffernan mentioned in her Acknowledgements section at the end of the book that she missed deadlines and was rushed to complete this book, so I sensed she had had to wrap up the final chapters more quickly than the earlier ones. Ironically, I think the book would have been better if ALL the chapters were rushed like that.

Still, I liked the book and am glad I read it. I just didn't love it - hence the three stars.
Profile Image for Michael Layden.
92 reviews8 followers
September 1, 2021
This is now the third book of Margaret Heffernan's I will be adding to my gift library. Previous books have been "Women on top" and "Willful blindness"
What I like about Margaret Heffernan's books is that she goes on field trips and introduces me to things that are going on in the world that I haven’t heard about before. Other Authors such as Gillian Tett, Michael Lewis and Barbara Ehrenreich are some of “my” travelling correspondents who send back reports from the bleeding edge which I use to try to figure out my own strategies for the future.
Margaret Heffernan comes across as a decent human being and her reactions to many of the people in the book shows genuine fondness and interest. She is good at seeing challenges from different people’s perspective, probably a legacy of working with a public broadcaster. I think this might be why her books really seem to annoy people. They are used to reading a book which has one point of view which is stated clearly and distinctly in every chapter and there is a nice comforting narrative. Reading one of her books gets one to take ownership of the material yourself and fit it into your own narrative.

For me reading a Margaret Heffernan book is only complete when I read the negative reviews afterwards. It helps me understand how people’s framing of problems can prevent them taking new material onboard. Time and again I am amazed how a single comment or musing in the book can completely unhinge a reviewer.
I’m giving it a rating of 4 because I learnt a lot from it that I hadn’t know and that I find useful.
20 reviews
July 14, 2022
“What am I reading?” was a frequent question that popped up in my head when I was reading this book. Uncertainty is quite an abstract topic to be written about. I wouldn’t know how to write about it myself but here is some of my thoughts.

You better remember each chapter topic while reading because it’s the only anchor to guide you through the whole chapter. There is no sub-topic. It’s similar to reading newspaper headline (if people still read newspaper these days. Headline -> explanation) When you read another head line, it’s the next chapter. Many times I didn’t even know what I was reading I had to go back and read the headline to remind myself. I think it’d be better if there is a header on each pair of page with each chapter topic instead of the name of the book.

Because of her writing style, it forced you to finish reading a big part of chapter in one go (depending on how she separate paragraphs for new sub-topics, which usually quite long.)

Although you get the main idea at the end of the chapter, I have to summarise my own thoughts when I finished reading each chapter. Otherwise I would have forgotten how one thing relates to the others.

Examples of stories included art, music, science, religious, health, business, politics, history etc. Wide range of background knowledge would help to understanding a bit better.

A lot of long sentences (3-5 lines) so this book is not on top of the list of easy reading for me. Need concentration.
56 reviews1 follower
December 26, 2020
Any book that exposes on page 14 the fraud stock picker Jim Cramer with the lines , "investors in Cramer's picks do not make money. Academic analysis of his advice showed that over time his believers either made no profit or incurred losses. If you slavishly followed his tips, you could lose a third of your money in two months". The author got my immediate attention with those lines, as she further p0ints out Cramer is bad a predicting the future trend of stock prices. She also mentions he is not alone in making bad predictions.

The book looks at coping with the future. The author says following predictive models of future events is a mostly worthless exercise. Preparing yourself to deal with the unpredictability of the future makes the most sense. She details several organizations and projects that are successful because they plan for the random way the future unfolds. Her experience as a management consultant allows her to speak with conviction about the process to prepare for the future as it unfolded in certain companies and organizations.
Profile Image for Dennis Leth.
97 reviews3 followers
February 22, 2021
Mind-blowing book. Especially for someone with a digital and technological approach.

I really like the humanistic approach that this book offers on the future. We don't have to wait for the future. We create it.

What makes us human is our ability to navigate and survive in complex environments. A complexity that for most is created by our self and the human traits: imagination, creativity, compassion, generosity, variety, meaning, faith and courage.

When someone is trying to make the world more predictable their are actually trying to limit those traits. And the leaders of such organisations can't understand why the got disrupted or what to do about it.

We need creativity, collaboration and a vast collections of possible futures.

We are humans. We can create large parts of our future. Let's not go for predictability.
137 reviews1 follower
April 10, 2021
This is good, positive and makes you feel that change is possible, as people struggle to return to the 'same old' of the Remainer mind with the systemic forces that make it strong in power terms and affronted when challenged. Forecasting is clearly often grossly inaccurate, I hope economists realize this as I did 50 years ago when I saw the unrealistic assumptions of econometric analysis. Of course, they earn huge amounts of money from perpetrating inaccuracy so the habit will not stop in a hurry. Things are complicated and culture is of primary importance, to put it simply. I would imagine those who believe in 'science tells us', would not be able to understand this level of analysis, more is the pity. This book looks at complexity in a wide range of human situations.
431 reviews6 followers
February 12, 2021
The book started promisingly then went off tangent for with topics and subjects that tenuously hold the book together. While the concluding chapter was perfect for our present time (uncanny if I may), there's nothing much I can learn from the book. The case studies were all interesting though but I've already read them or seen them through my course of work. This is not a book about how to chart your future but serves as a guide and makes you think more about the way you are thinking. Great read for those who do not do strategy or policy planning work. It also pointed out some common gaps in strategic planning so it could serve as a reminder for planners too.
Profile Image for David.
450 reviews4 followers
November 27, 2021
I didn't enjoy Margaret's writing style. The book was an incoherent hodge podge of different ideas and stories.

I couldn't catch what her overarching point was which was confirmed when I reached the end where she states:
"This book began with two questions: what do we need to do, and what do we need to be, to map the future? What we need to do is to hold fast to the gifts we have, and to develop them together. What we need to be is human."


One interesting story she tells is of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI). This hasn't aged well in light of Covid.
26 reviews1 follower
November 6, 2020
Some really interesting insights and fascinating examples of how uncertainty had been approached. The story of the Sagrada Família cathedral puts a great case across for adversity and endeavour over rigorous future planning. A good case put forward for our over reliance on technology too, and how we are outsourcing to machines tasks that we should do ourselves, and how this is limiting our capacity to think for ourselves (the satnav example was useful here!).
4 reviews
January 29, 2021
An interesting read and some good questioning of sloppy stats and judgements, how a story or idea or prediction gets legs based on spurious / incomplete / misleading information. I really enjoy this kind of critical thinking! But the author did fall into the same trap herself repeatedly — not having researched ideas fully (eg, narrow analysis of the main reasons AVs will reduce travel times / traffic). But still a good and thought provoking read.
Profile Image for Christian.
99 reviews16 followers
February 12, 2021
This book had excellent stories around dealing with uncertainty but the book itself felt wandering and incomplete. It promised to deliver tools to deal with uncertainty but I don’t think it did that well. The premise around our desire for certainty is interesting, and the ways humans have attempted to reduce uncertainty–often poorly–informative. But I think Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock is a much more effective book on the subject.
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