Uncharted: How Uncertainty Can Power Change by Margaret Heffernan

An updated study of uncertainty as a fuel for change – astonishingly released originally as the pandemic hit – by one of the UK’s most important public thinkers Margaret Heffernan, will be published on 18th February 2021.


In February 2020, just as Covid-19 took hold in the UK, Uncharted by Margaret Heffernan was initially released. The coincidence was extraordinary. Here was a book which outlined how society, business and government were perilously unprepared to deal with uncertainty, just as one of the most disruptive events of a generation – a global pandemic – hit, throwing plans, predictions, systems and entire ways of thinking into utter chaos.

As Heffernan points out, like so many risks in life the pandemic was “generally certain, but specifically ambiguous”; we knew that a new virus would likely emerge, but we did not know where or when, and we failed to adapt our thinking to prepare us adequately

Uncertainty about everything – from the nature of the virus to food supply chains, remote working and schooling to the very survival of businesses and entire sectors – gripped the world. Just as Heffernan had pinpointed in Uncharted, we had been relying on the false promises of technology to predict every eventuality. Covid painfully exposed the perils of doing so; businesses, hospitals and supermarkets were working at 100% capacity with zero room to pivot when everything changed overnight; not the most highly developed algorithm or accomplished super-forecaster envisaged the pandemic or provided a credible path out of it.

Yet, as Heffernan recounts in the book, some embraced this uncertainty, using it as an opportunity to explore new ways of thinking and radically change their modus operandi. From automotive giant Ford collaborating with designers and manufacturers to produce 17,000 ventilators in a few months, to the Designers and Artists’ Collection Society (DACS) reconfiguring itself to use intellectual property law and tech to support the livelihoods of artists – Covid put us all to the test, but those with the courage to experiment and the imagination to see how and where, thrived.

However, as Uncharted reveals, the pandemic is just one illustration of a wider problem that humanity is facing; we are now living in a world where so much is unpredictable that we need radically to rethink how we work and live, and who we need to be. Ranging freely through history and from business to science, government to friendships, visual arts to quantum physics, Uncharted is full of sharp insight and inspirational examples of how people adapt and flourish by thinking humanely and creatively in the face of uncertainty.


Timely, captivating and “appealingly human” (FT), Uncharted challenges our “prediction addiction”. In the book, Margaret explores how preparedness – doing everything today that you might need for tomorrow – provides the antidote to passivity and prediction. Updated and revised for 2021, Uncharted is a powerful retrospective about how the world changed in a year, and a captivating exploration of how to radically change how we think, plan, react and live.

Praise for Uncharted:

“Excellent (and very timely)” – Gillian Tett, Financial Times


“Wise and appealingly human. Heffernan is…a deft storyteller” – Tim Harford, Financial Times


Uncharted challenges the fetishisation of forecasting. Is it time to embrace uncertainty?” – Stephen Sackur, BBC Hardtalk


“I have never read anything quite like Uncharted…Margaret Heffernan shook my core beliefs and made me look at the world – and myself – differently. It doesn’t get any better than that” – Tom Peters


“Some books are written to explain a moment, other books arrive at the right moment. Uncharted is both.” – Todd Sattersten, Medium


“Uncharted couldn’t be a more timely examination of the inherent unpredictability and uncertainty of life…For anybody who wants to develop the muscles of leadership, of taking responsibility, of creativity, of living in a world of uncertainty, I can’t recommend any better starting point than this book”Matthew Taylor, RSA

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.