Margaret Heffernan on how to act our way out of the status quo trap

Ep. 66

Margaret Heffernan is an author, speaker, business leader and professor. She has written six books and her TED talks have been seen by more than 12 million people. We talk about the ‘status quo trap’ in organisations, myths about whistleblowers, her thoughts on self-management and learning to embrace tough questions. Finally, she shares why her main focus now is the climate crisis.

Follow Margaret on Twitter: @M_Heffernan



Lisa Gill: Welcome, Margaret. Thank you so much for coming on the Leadermorphosis podcast. I'm so looking forward to talking to you.

Margaret Heffernan: I'm looking forward to it too.

Lisa Gill: Looking back across your work, you often do two things really well. One is that you seem to be really good at waking us up to the things that we're blind to. And then second thing is that you're able to point to examples and stories of individuals and organisations who are doing things differently, trying out alternatives. So let's use that as a bit of a guide for our conversation, and start with a problem scenario. Could you share with listeners how you see the current landscape of organisations and work in terms of the obstacles that it would be helpful for people listening to be aware of in their journey towards exploring new ways of working, and things they perhaps might be blind to?

Margaret Heffernan: The thing I see most frequently is that people get very caught in what I call the status quo trap. They can think about where they are, and what's wrong with it. And they're pretty comfortable tinkering around the edges to make it a little bit more this or a bit a little bit less that. But in terms of having a really fresh take on what's doable, they're not very bold. They're very alert to what stands in their way. And in particular, they are very reluctant to do experiments.

So they suffer from a problem, which is, they think they can think their way to the answer. And actually, you can't. The only way you find a way to answer is by doing stuff differently and seeing what it gets you. And whether it gets you something positive or negative, you've always learned something. So, I think [there is] this reluctance to experiment - and in particular, on the part of a lot of senior managers - the tendency to require proof before the experiment. So what guarantee can you give me this experiment will work? Well, if you could give a guarantee, then you wouldn't need to do the experiment.

There's a chicken and egg problem, which is 'I want to try something new'. 'Do you know if it'll work?'. 'No, well, then you can't do it'. And asking for evidence that it's likely to work seems like a rational question. Except that you can't know until you do it. So I think people get stuck because they can analyse what's wrong, they can analyse how wrong it is, or even how much what's wrong is costing them, but if they have no freedom, or imagination with which to experiment, they'll never get anywhere very different.

Lisa Gill: I also want to talk a bit about your book Willful Blindness, because that was the first of your books that I encountered. And for me, it's really helpful to think about this blindspot, we have - the place from which we are operating. Especially from talking to a lot of people in organisations - particularly leaders - who are in theory up for experimenting or transforming. And they overestimate their ability to be empowering or up for the change that's going to come with decentralisation. For me your work was so helpful, because it represents the business case for why traditional power hierarchies can be so problematic - because we're sort of invisible. And yet these hierarchies shape our brains and our ability to think creatively or differently.

Margaret Heffernan: Well, I don't think they are that invisible. Because the power hierarchies are typically illustrated in org charts. And they are pretty visible. I think the difficulty is people think that because they have always been part of those hierarchies, there must be something intrinsically natural about them. And that perhaps true hierarchies exist in nature. But that doesn't mean it's the right way to do things now.

So I think there is a real reluctance to question. I think people frequently feel they are the only person asking these questions. But when they look out, everybody they see seems pretty comfortable. And if they don't reach out to other people, then they don't have a sense that actually they're not alone. And as long as you keep your unhappiness to yourself, you can't find allies - and you will never change anything without allies.

So the first place to start is to find the people who, like you, are uncomfortable with the status quo - and start thinking about how you could make this different. And how different could we make it? And is there a way we could experiment with it to see if it works - or if it does work, what part of it works? I think that's the only way to do it. And of course, the reason I write about companies that have done this is to give people some sort of framework or inspiration to just try something and to get over that status quo trap.

But I do believe quite strongly that it's very hard to do that. You need some allies or soulmates with you - partly to challenge your own thinking, and partly to help you have arguments and debates about how it might be better, and just to get different perspectives on the problem that you're trying to solve.

So if you take the Buurtzorg example - which I've written about - that was very much the brainchild of Jos de Blok. He also had a very great advantage in that he had two forms of training, one as a nurse and one as an economist, and that's a really unusual combination. But he also spent a lot of time talking to other nurses. And talking to people in government about what the problems were and what their capacity for experimentation was. So it's virtually impossible to do the kind of change that we need all by yourself.

Lisa Gill: Yes, I really resonate with that. And I meet so many people - often public sector organisations - for example, who feel really lonely. Like, am I the only one that thinks there must be another way?

Margaret Heffernan: And the answer is no - of course you're not the only one. So do not think you can think your way to the answer. You can't, it's impossible. You have to do something different and see how the system responds. From that you've learned something that you can build on. But absolutely, none of us can solve these real world problems in our heads. It's not physics, it's not math. It's human beings working together. And the way people learn to work together, is by working together.

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Lisa Gill: Yeah, that's so true. I'm curious to ask you this question as well. Because I get asked this a lot. People always say - well Buurtzorg is an example of an organisation that Jos de Blok started from scratch. He had experience of traditional, very hierarchical bureaucratic healthcare organisations. And he created Buurtzorg from scratch and started recruiting nurses in those small self managed teams. What about organisations that are really wanting to move in this direction towards self management who are traditionally structured - and I know you have worked with and written about large global organisations who have done some innovative experiments in this direction. How do you manage that? Because that's a different challenge, I imagine.

Margaret Heffernan: Well it's quite interesting. I think people make a great deal about self management. And it's important. But when I think about my own career - so 13 years working at the BBC, which is a pretty traditional hierarchical organisation - I can't ever remember telling anybody what time they had to come into work. I can't ever remember telling anybody how many hours a week they had to work. I never told anybody where they had to work. I mean, it just didn't occur to me to do that. And it's all because I was the boss. You know, I had an assistant and I worked with lots of actors and writers and poets and musicians, but - where they did the work? How many hours it took them? I would have regarded trying to police that as kind of infantilising and insulting.

So I think you have to look around you and think - how many of the barriers in front of me are real? How many of them are in my head? And if they're in my head, what would happen to me if I threw them away? If I didn't define being the boss as telling people what to do, who is going to stop you? I mean, maybe somebody is going to stop you different organisations function in different ways. But if you stop doing all that, and you somehow imagine being the boss required, and you have good results from it - is anybody going to tell you no - go back to the old worse way?

I think a lot of the barriers are in our heads. And they're the perfect alibi for oh, I'd like to change everything, but I can't type thinking. It's sort of self serving - I would be courageous, heroic and imaginative, but oh - they won't let me. No, you won't let you. There are so many opportunities to work better and differently - never more than now. So I think you have to start with yourself and think, okay - do you really want to change this? And try kicking over a few fences and see how many people really come running after you with shotguns? I bet it's not going to be that many. And if it is, then maybe you should go and work somewhere else.

Ultimately, a lot of institutions are changed by the people who vote with their feet. In the United States, in May, 4 million people quit their job. The same number quit in April. They weren't fired, they weren't laid off. They weren't furloughed - they quit. And in the UK, we have gigantic numbers of job vacancies. So in the end, I think it's just about whether you really want to change things, or just want to whine. And I know that sounds harsh, but I can't think of a single employee I ever talked to who loved everything about their business. Every one of them always complains, and then they give me all the reasons why they can't do anything. But actually, you show leadership by trying, even if you don't succeed.

I had a fantastic conversation with a young woman on Saturday. We were coming back from a conference together - she was a black British chemical engineer. And at one point in one of her jobs, she found that she was her boss was a very aggressive bully. And she did the super intelligent thing, which is she asked some of the other people in her team about this, because she wondered, you know, was this racial discrimination? Or was this generic bullying? Turns out, it was generic bullying. And she asked them what they'd ever done about it. And nobody had ever done anything about it. And she just thought, well - that's their decision. But mine is, I'm going to go and talk about this to my boss's boss, and explain what's going on. And the consequence of that was that he was fired. So all the other people who had hated this - what were they doing? They'd been there for years. She was in her first month. What they were doing was getting used to it - and maybe getting used to the pleasure of complaining, where one always feels sort of self righteous as a victim rather than able to take risks as a leader.

Lisa Gill: Yes - I have learned that there seem to be two paradigms of leadership, or of working together. One is like kind of parent-child paradigm kind of traditional management paradigm. And there is a sort of safety and security and comfort in being both the parent role or the child role, to a certain extent. And what you have just spoken about there is the power that comes from realising that we have choice. We can speak up and say something. We can call attention to something that's not working.

One of the things I was so fascinated about when I read Willful Blindness was whistleblowers. What is it about those people who speak up when everyone else is silent? Often at great personal risk. For those black sheep who go against the grain and dare to do that - I'm interested in understanding the ways that we can support people to do that. Whether it's through practices, or whether it's through sharing stories, or whether it's through the human skills that we can all develop that help us have the courage to do that.

Margaret Heffernan: Well, I think there are a couple of things. First of all, I think technology has made us quite obedient. Right, you can only use software in certain ways. And it absolutely drives us to behave as it needs. And I've noticed this a lot recently. Partly because of lockdowns and COVID, people have become more timid and more obedient. And my observation is that a lot of people seem to have lost their sense of agency.

Even though we have quite a lot of freedom, now, and very large swathes of the population is using it, they've kind of lost their agency muscle. And I am a very big believer that if you don't use what freedoms you have - in any context - then it's very unlikely, under pressure, that you're suddenly going to find yourself willing to stand outside the status quo.

So the first thing I would say is that it is quite important in any job that you're in, to be able to think about it and to think about whether something is this the right thing to be doing. Does it make sense? And if it doesn't make sense, to ask why. I don't want to bore your listeners with examples of COVID paperwork I've been asked to fill out, none of which has any common sense or rationale behind it. It's just everybody probably feels they better do something to make themselves feel safe - but none of it works.

This suggests to me that people have - due to the lockdowns - become more obedient and compliant than before, which is pretty scary. But I think the key issue around whistleblowers - and there's a vast literature around whistleblowers is that there is nothing about them that's special. There used to be a lot of mythology that they were predominantly women - they're not. That they are predominantly people of faith - they're not. That they were somehow outsiders - they're not, until they blow the whistle. Often, they're pretty ordinary people. If anything characterises them, it's that they bring intense devotion to their work. They admire the company or the organisation they're working for, and they want to see it fulfil its greatest promise. So that means these are some of the most loyal employees you will have. And when they speak up out of concern, it's not because they're troublemakers - it's because they really want the company to do its best, and they get upset when it doesn't.

If you're a boss, to whom someone comes with an issue, the thing you need to do is be a really excellent listener. And assume goodwill - the risk of raising a concern is so great. It is perceived to be so great that somebody is doing something quite brave. So the kind of fallback which is - oh, they must just be a troublemaker, makes no sense. Troublemakers don't get rewarded. So why would anybody do it?

So then you have to think, okay, so if this is an issue, let's find out in a sensitive, careful way, is this a real problem? And if it is a real problem, how are we going to solve it? And I think what's really interesting is, of course, there's a kind of narrative asymmetry around whistleblowing - which is, the whistleblower that raises the concern is punished and hounded out. It's a great story. Right? It's the good guy versus the bad guy. And the good guy suffers, and it's tragic and we're moved. And it's great drama. And it's made dozens of fantastic movies. The other narrative - where somebody raises a concern, and the boss says, oh my - I had no idea. Thank you so much for telling me. And fixes the problem. Well, that's not a big drama - that's kicking the door, and it's already open.

But this does happen, actually, in organisations, quite frequently. Like the example I just gave. Now, organisations don't like to boast about the fact that we had a dangerous doctor, or we had an abusive bar manager, or we had a really racist accountant - and we dealt with it. Because they don't actually like - once they have fixed the problem - to remember that they had the problem. But these problems do get fixed. They don't get fixed in two hours with a lot of drama though. They get fixed with a lot of really good listening, and quite a lot of subtle negotiation. But because I work very closely with a lot of leaders, I do see this happening quite frequently.

So I think the story that we tell ourselves - which is if I speak up, I'd get clobbered - it's an alibi for doing nothing. And I think the better conversation to have with oneself is, okay, what happens if I do speak up? There are a couple of narrative options here. What happens if I don't speak up? Well, that you can be quite certain of. What happens if you do nothing, is nothing. What happens to your self esteem? Nothing very good. What happens to your notion of yourself as some kind of leader? Well, it lacks evidence. So I think you have to look at those two stories and think, which story do I want to be mine?

Lisa Gill: Yes, that's very powerful. This makes me think about leaders in particular. What can we do to help create that kind of climate of psychological safety that is going to make people more likely to take that risk to speak up. Can you share any examples of practices or things that that you've come across in teams that really make a difference?

Margaret Heffernan: First of all, I think one has to be quite careful with the phrase psychological safety. I know this has been much publicised by Amy Edmondson. And I think it's important. But I think it's also a little naive, in so far as - I can do my very best to create an in a work environment that feels safe. But if there's high unemployment, if there's high inflation, if people are carrying a very large amount of personal debt - usually in the form of a mortgage - I promise you people won't feel safe. So there's a significant amount to do with psychological safety, that is entirely beyond the control of the organisation.

I remember before the financial crisis, thinking that here in England we had people with gigantic mortgages. And thinking, well, if I were carrying that size of mortgage, and I was unhappy in my job - because there was a ethical issue - I would be pretty careful about doing anything. Because if I'm carrying 300,000 or 500,000 pounds worth of debt, I can't afford to be out of work for a day.

So I think the first thing I would say is, it's important as a leader to recognise what you can and can't influence. And if you're in that kind of environment, which we may find ourselves in sooner than we think, people are just going to be nervous. And therefore you have to do more to make them feel safe. So what can you do?

The first thing you you can and must do is be a really excellent listener, and to take the concerns that people bring to you very seriously. And if it turns out that they're not warranted, sit down and have a good conversation about why you thought this. And actually what I think I found is that if you think the complainant is wrong, make sure they are wrong, and have a really good gentle conversation to make sure you understood it correctly. And that they're satisfied with what you've seen - because you may have got the wrong end of the stick, or they may have got the wrong end of the stick. There's an opportunity here for everybody to learn more. So that's the first thing I'd say.

The other thing I'd say is that you can say until you're blue in the face that you won't shoot the messenger. The problem is, people won't believe you because they have probably worked in places where messengers did get shot. Or they may simply have come from a family, for example, where speaking up wasn't the done thing. My sister is a psychotherapist, and she does a lot of work in prisons. And she's done a lot of work with murderers. And one of the things she said to me, which I thought was really striking, is that they all come from very silent families. There are a lot of very siloed families. So there are a lot of families where people don't learn how to have a good argument, a productive argument over a dinner table. There are a lot of families that don't have dinner together. They don't have an experience - a lived experience - of safe debate. So the only reason people will believe you when you say I won't shoot the critic or the dissonant or whatever, is if they see people doing it.

And I think one of the things I was quite lucky with when I was running tech companies in the United States is that I typically brought from one company to another people who'd worked with me for a long time. And in meetings new employees could see that we would quite frequently have a hammer and tongs debates about strategy or products or whatever. And they could see that actually this was how people in the company earned respect. It wasn't what they got punished for. And I really believe that people only will feel safe in asking a tough question if they see other people asking tough questions that don't get shot down.

Lisa Gill: Yeah, I really agree that the listening piece and appreciating people that I think historically have been seen as people who are difficult. And as you say, these are your most engaged people - the ones who really want to improve things, and see that things could be done differently.

Margaret Heffernan: I'm running a local project in the village where I live. And one of the people working with me on it got the wrong end of the stick about something I'd said, and gave me some pretty unvarnished feedback - which was not terribly easy to receive. But having had that extremely uncomfortable conversation, the two of us can now work together much more effectively than if we hadn't had it. If we hadn't had it, I think the project would have collapsed. So I'm indebted to the people who will say, hang on a second, Margaret - there's something going wrong here. And we need to resolve it now. Because if we don't, it'll get worse.

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Lisa Gill: Yes, for me that speaks to this endemic aversion to conflict that we have in many societies. The sense that if conflict is happening, something is wrong, and we should avoid it. Or we should resolve it, or try and see it as an opportunity to deepen relationships to get new perspectives. And you have this great phrase that you just reminded me of about the way out of Willful Blindness being unvarnished truth and unfettered exploration.

Margaret Heffernan: I teach a program - which I didn't design - Giving Voice to Values, which was designed by an American academic called Mary Gentile. And it's very much designed to teach executives and business school students how to raise concerns when they find themselves caught in a values conflict. And Mary told me a really wonderful story at one point that I'm sure she won't mind me sharing. She was doing some work with a very large company in packaged goods. And she was working with a lot of compliance people for whom this is their meat and drink.

And at one point they turned her turned to her and said - we get that we need to raise these concerns. But here's the deal. If we're going to raise these concerns, we need some kind of promise from our bosses that they're going to listen. And Mary thought, well, that's fair enough. And as all smart people do, she took the feedback really seriously. And she slightly redesigned the program for the bosses to whom these concerns would come and taught them how to listen, how to ask questions, and how to understand the concern better. And that, it seems to me, was the best of all possible worlds. They eventually came up with a pact that everyone would agree that they would raise things they were concerned about. And the bosses agreed that they would listen and take it seriously and not assume ill will. And that, I think, is the kind of state that you would wish to see any organisation attain?

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Lisa Gill: Yes, that is like having agreements, and goes back to what you were saying before about people generally having had so many bad experiences that it takes consistency. And also that people need to see an action before they really believe it. A lot of organisations I'm working with can declare they're not going to have managers anymore. That means everyone can make decisions, and we're self managing now. And people are often surprised when no one steps in because it takes more than just your word or permission. You have to see it to believe it, almost.

Margaret Heffernan: Yes, I think that's right. But I also don't think self management solves all problems. I think there's a great tendency in business thinking, to pursue the hunt for the silver bullet, that one thing that changes everything. I don't think there is- I think that's a mythical beast, right? The organisations that we mostly work in are enormously complex, and one single thing or one single idea doesn't change everything.

But I think that the the advantage of self management is that it makes much clearer who's responsible for what. And the things that people decide to do for themselves, they are much more likely to take responsibility for than the things where they're told to do it. If you didn't decide it was worth doing, you're very much less invested in it working out well. So if I come to you, and I say - I really think, you know, we should open a new department. And you say, well, if you think that's the right idea, you should do it. Now I'm on my metal to make sure that the way I do it fully justifies the argument I made for it.

On the other hand, if you come to me and say, Margaret you need to create a new department. And I say, really why? And the answer is, in essence, because I say, so. I have no investment in making it work. You know, maybe I thought it was a stupid idea to begin with. And I maybe do it - because I think, oh, my job is to please the boss. But actually, there's no reason I'm going to put myself on the line to make it work for his success.

So ownership of the decision, hugely determines the sense of personal accountability, as opposed to just kind of legal or corporate responsibility that people bring to their work. And you can see this when you look at the lives and work of artists and writers and so on. They are personally so invested in the work, that they go to extreme ends to make it successful and make it as good as it can possibly be. And the deep difficulty that our organisations suffer from is a sense that people carrying out decisions are so little invested in having made them.

Yes - and I like what you're saying, because I'm very wary of any kind of dogmatic approach to this thing that is going to solve everything. And also, I'm very wary of only looking at structures and processes. Which is why I think I really resonate with a lot of your work, because I like the way you kind of turn over pebbles - which are the sort of unexamined assumptions and ways of thinking that we're not looking at - that are in the way for us. And for me, a big takeaway from this conversation already is that the way out of the status quo is not by thinking about it by doing. Which already is kind of a mindset shift. Right?

Yes. And it doesn't seem to be a huge one, except the evident resistance to it suggests that it's much harder than it sounds.

Lisa Gill: And I wonder if that's frustrating to you at all. I wonder what you think of the current landscape and some of the latest trends in this future of work field - if it frustrates you that a lot of these ideas are nothing new, in some ways. And yet, it still seems to be a sort of fairly niche, small percentage of organisations that are really doing this.

Margaret Heffernan: Yes. Well, it is very frustrating. But on the other hand, I was thinking just the other day that I published my book - A Bigger Prize - in 2015, which was about collaboration, and why it was so important, and how to do it well. And I remember I was going around talking to lots of different kinds of organisations about it. And in one workshop a very senior executive stood up and asked me if was I a communist. He was so totally baffled by this idea. Like, why do we have to collaborate? I just tell people what to do, and that works fine for me.

Anyway, I was in a conference in Italy this weekend, and there was a report on the current G7 negotiations about what the current approach to global problems is. The old Washington framework was to let the markets decide - and that really what matters most is being competitive and competitive successes. And that, thank God, is now on its way out, if not out. So that's terrific.

So what is the new framework with which the G7 is thinking about how they are going to work together to address challenges like the climate crisis? Well, it turns out, it's all about collaboration. It's about collaboration. It's about consensus. It's about cooperation. It's about all the things I was writing about in 2015 - when people wondered why I was writing about it.

I have a history here. I was writing about Willful Blindness when everybody thought they were on top of the world. And I was writing about collaboration when everybody thought, no - individual competitiveness is what makes companies and countries thrive. And my most recent book, which is about the unpredictability of life and uncertainty, came out a month or two before lockdowns started. And the second page talks about epidemics. So I'm kind of getting used to this, right. And I tend to write about things before they're big. I get very frustrated when people forget that I did this. But on the other hand, that's just what I do. And it's what I like doing. And I've never been a dedicated follower of fashion. And if it's frustrating, well, at least it's interesting.

Lisa Gill: Yes, I have empathy for that. I know, my co-author, was speaking about giving the authority back in the 1990s, when people would be outraged by her saying that. And now it's sort of like, yes - everyone kind of gets that.

Margaret Heffernan: That doesn't mean that all the ideas that are rejected are great ideas. But I think it means you have to have a strong stomach and decide - do I want to do work I believe in, or do I just want to be fashionable. And that's a personal decision - often very governed by personal circumstances. And I've been fortunate enough to have had some success in various walks of life which mean that I'm not desperate to be belle of the ball. I'm very desperate to try to find ways to say things that I think are true.

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Lisa Gill: Yes, I can see that in your work. That makes sense. So what's energising you at the moment? Do you have a sense of what your next book will b, or what's giving you hope, or inspiration?

Margaret Heffernan: What's energising me at the moment is the climate crisis and what we have to do about it now. It's the greatest crisis human beings have ever faced. We have studiously ignored it for about 35 years. We have seven years in which we can, perhaps, start getting things to change. That's not very long. And so increasingly, that's what my work is focused on.

In particular, how to communicate with people so that they stay hopeful. Because I think, in many ways that one part of the history of the climate crisis is an absolutely tragic, catastrophic failure in communication. And not for any malicious reason. I mean, yes, all of the climate change denying spin that came out of fossil fuel companies - you know, that was disgusting, is disgusting, remains disgusting. But I think the bigger difficulty - because it remains with us today - is that the scientific communication has absolutely scared people witless. And they feel desperate, they feel distraught. And they feel helpless, at exactly the moment that we need people to feel really up for change, and really willing to turn up every rock to see where they can reduce their carbon footprint. And, if we all survive, it will be a fantastic history of how did we communicate so badly? And how did we learn to communicate better? Because if we can't do that, nothing else will count.

This is not a technological problem. I'm pretty persuaded that technologically, we can solve the climate crisis. It's not going to be pretty, but we can do it. It's a problem of communication and trust, and whether or not the state and corporations and citizens can develop a shared language of trust that allows them to get big stuff done fast.

I don't know if we can or not, but I'm very determined to try. So I'm running a whole bunch of extraordinarily complicated kinds of community action projects - certainly emotionally very complicated for everybody involved in them. To see how can you work with communities so that they really understand their choices, so that they're really genuinely involved, and by their involvement, become better educated. And by their better education, start to understand how to make good choices. And this can come back to your theme of self management. This absolutely cannot be done by handing down edicts, by shaming people, or by bossing people around - it has got to be co-created, I believe, with citizens. And that means it's really hard, and it's really slow. And it's pretty labor intensive. But it's got to be done. And if we can do it, we will learn a lot more about management and governance, than we knew when we so horribly failed to alert people to the crisis when there was still a lot more time than there is now.

Lisa Gill: So the parallels between what we were talking about earlier in the conversation about the sense of learned helplessness or powerlessness that people often feel - it's the same challenge, right? How do we help people to see that they do have power, that they do have choice?

Margaret Heffernan: The answer is, we don't help them. We find ways to work with them. Because nobody trusts us anymore. Right? We may have had trust once - we blew it. People don't like being told by government what to do. I've seen that in the pandemic. And so we have to do this together. If we're going to be able to do it on the scale that's required, I think. But, you know, it's gonna take a lot of work, and there isn't a lot of time. But I don't see what other work there is to do in the world at the moment. I'm going to sound a little heavy handed here. I can see we have lots of other problems. But if we don't solve this problem, everything else is kind of moot.

Lisa Gill: Yes - it's the meta problem.

Margaret Heffernan: Exactly. So I just don't see the point of doing anything else really. You know, I have children, and I don't really understand why they aren't furious with me and my generation. But the very least I can do is try to do everything I can that might give them a future. And I may fail, but I can't not try. And this comes back to this thing of two stories, right? I can speak up and I can do stuff - none of which carries any guarantees. and it may fail. But I know exactly what doing nothing is going to achieve. It's going to leave us in the status quo. And the status quo will destroy the planet. And that ought to be absurdly extreme. But it isn't.

Lisa Gill: Is there anything else that you really wish for people listening to this to hear?

Margaret Heffernan: I think I have said enough. The only thing I would say - to try to lighten the tone a little bit - is, you know, you're never proud of the stuff you didn't do, you're always proud of the stuff you did. So I think there's a question, which is - what's the stuff that's going to make me proud of what I did today?

Lisa Gill: Well, that feels like a very empowering place to end.

Margaret Heffernan: Well, I hope so. It's very hard. I'm not even sure I believe in empowering people. I think they have power. I think all of us have power. The question is deciding to use it.

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