On the Importance of Daring to Speak Up and Disagree

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

Stimulated by her extraordinary TED talk on creative conflict, Heffernan subsequently dived 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.

Margaret started off with a story about the scientist Alice Stewart, who got intrigued by the initial results that showed how many childhood cancers originated in children of affluent families, which she then researched extensively only to find out that the reason was the foetal damage caused by medical X-rays during pregnancies. Nevertheless, Heffernan concluded, it took 25 years for doctors to stop this practice. A small change, she said, such as not washing your hands, can sometimes be lethal.

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The talk continued in direction of discussing ways of encouraging the environment/culture in our workplaces to aid people speaking up, thus making it safe to have arguments. Giving a lot of real-life and personal examples of her extensive business career, Margaret underlined the importance of building trust, using the term ‘social capital’, which has proved far more efficient than competition and is routinely underestimated.

Heffernan’s argument goes 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.

Margaret also recounted her theory regarding ‘quiet time’ at work. Explaining the findings of an innovative management consultant, Heffernan 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 making sure you get uninterrupted time to do genuine work, without the burden of multi-tasking and 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 on the audience to question each solution, choice and decision, pinpointing the importance of asking the outstanding question that will change things slightly, but impact greatly.

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