Margaret Heffernan on Navigating the Uncharted Future
In Conversation with Andrew Keen on the Keen On
Over the last two hundred years, nothing has divided us more than our free-market economic system. Is it the source of every social injustice, from exploitation to alienation to inequality, or is it essential to our freedom and democracy? This debate is as relevant today in 2020 as it was in 1920 or 1820. This is the focus of the second season of Keen On from author Andrew Keen.
In this episode of Keen On, Andrew talks to Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur and former CEO of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation, about her upcoming book, Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future, coming from Avid Reader Press.
From the episode:
Andrew Keen: It’s March 2nd. Can you tell me how many people would have died of the coronavirus by, say, March 10?
Margaret Heffernan: I definitely can’t. There are mathematical models of epidemics, but the difficult thing about epidemics is that there is no profile of one, which is to say they’re all different. There are different pathogens. They have different rates of spread according to different geographies. And even in the different geographies it is dependent on the social and personal infrastructure of healthcare. So it’s different with every pathogen, in every country, in every health care system. So it’s a beautiful example, if you like, of our difficulty in doing accurate forecasts because every single one, while it shares characteristics with other epidemics, everyone is a unique event.
Andrew Keen: What about the stock market? Maybe you can be a bit more helpful there because the subtitle of your book is “How to Navigate the Future.” So, Margaret, we’re depending on you to manage. If you can’t help us with the future of coronavirus, at least you could map the future of the stock market so we won’t continue to lose all our money.
Margaret Heffernan: Of course, exactly as you’ve said, since a market can’t know about epidemics, there will always be an element of unpredictability about how the market behaves. And it’s quite interesting. People are always arguing that while the rate of change has increased, and I’m not at all convinced that that’s true or even frankly that it matters, I think what’s more likely to explain a sense of unsettlement is that actually we’re less able to forecast now than probably at any time in the last hundred years. So we got quite accustomed to the idea that we could forecast annual rates of return. We could forecast. You know, we can forecast weather better than ever. But I think what we overlooked was that, however we get better at some of those things, there is an underlying the complex system that is life. Just an ineradicable uncertainty and no amount of technology or magic or fame or punditry can get us over that. So I think the prospect of mapping the future starts with recognizing it doesn’t exist. It isn’t out there.
Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur, chief executive, and author. She was born in Texas, raised in Holland, and educated at Cambridge University. She worked for the BBC and developed interactive multimedia products with Peter Lynch, Tom Peters, Standard & Poors, and The Learning Company. She has served as Chief Executive Officer for InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. The author of Beyond Measure, Willful Blindness, and A Bigger Prize, among others, she blogs for HuffPost, CBS Moneywatch, and Inc.com.