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Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious
 
 

Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious [Kindle Edition]

Margaret Heffernan
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Review

"Heffernan's cogent, riveting look at how we behave at our worst encourages us to strive for our best" --US Publishers' Weekly

'...using psychological studies and interviews and applies her theory to explain why incidents such as the financial crisis occur' --Daily Express, February 25, 2011

Product Description

In the 2006 case of the US Government vs Enron, the presiding judge instructed the jurors to take account of the concept of wilful blindness as they reached their verdict about whether the chief executives of the disgraced energy corporation were guilty. It was not enough for the defendants to say that they did not know what was going on; that they had not seen anything. If they failed to observe the corruption which was unfolding before their very eyes, not knowing was no defence. The guilty verdict sent shivers down the spine of the corporate world.
In this book, distinguished business woman and writer, Margaret Heffernan, examines the phenomenon of wilful blindness. Drawing on a wide array of sources from psychological studies and social statistics to interviews with the relevant protagonists she examines what it is about human nature which makes us so prone to wilful blindness. Taught from infancy to obey authority, and absorbing the importance of selective vision as a key social skill, humans exacerbate their tendency to become institutionalised by joining organisations which are run by like-minded people. Wilful Blindness looks at how hard-work and the information overload of the modern workplace add to the problem. And examines why whistleblowers and Cassandras are so very rare.
Ranging freely through history and from business to science, government to the family, this engaging and anecdotal book will explain why wilful blindness is so dangerous in the globalised, interconnected world in which we live, before suggesting ways in which institutions and individuals can start to combat it. In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Margaret Heffernan's thought provoking book will force open our eyes.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 686 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (3 Feb 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004IK899W
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #86,691 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

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.

In 2004, Margaret published THE NAKED TRUTH: A Working Woman's Manifesto about Business and What Really Matters (Jossey-Bass) and in 2007 she brought out WOMEN ON TOP: How Female Entrepreneurs are Changing the Rules for Business Success. She is Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship at Simmons College in Boston and Executive in Residence at Babson College. She sits on the Council of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the UK as well as one the boards of several private companies. Margaret blogs for the Huffington Post and BNET and writes for magazines around the world. She was recently featured on television in The Secret Millionaire and on radio in Changing the Rules. She has written three plays for the BBC and is just starting her fourth. She is married with two children.

WHY WILFUL BLINDNESS?
As the banks were melting down, I kept wondering: Why did no one see this coming? I could see it, many people around me could see it. That the world was running on debt was plain to many people. So why were we so surprised? And then I thought: this feeling is familiar. That sensation of knowing something and not knowing something. Skeletons in cupboards. Emperors new clothes. The elephant in the room. The idea that you're safe as long as you don't recognize the one thing that truly threatens you. I'd seen it in people who smoked and knew they shouldn't, others who never opened their credit card bills, in marriages where you knew one of them was having an affair. And I suddenly realized: that's what it is. In some walk of life, we are all wilfully blind. And I started to wonder: How exactly does that work....?

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars out of darkness 31 Jan 2011
By inoz
Format:Paperback
The past decade has, perhaps, seen more than its fair share of failures, from the investors left penniless and destitute by the collapse of Enron or the exposure of the Madoff fraud, or the gross irresponsibility and greed of banks, though the disaster of the Iraq war and its aftermath to the egregious mishandling of the New Orleans hurricane or the gigantic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Margaret Heffernan's thesis is that these and many other examples are the consequence of wilful blindness; the inability of knowing subjects to see what was clearly manifest before them.

The book is an engrossing tour de force describing these and many other examples, often augmented by revealing interviews with those who were closest to the action. This in itself makes riveting reading, but Heffernan does far more than this; she adds rich and perceptive commentary supplemented, in many cases, by results from psychological and medical research papers, including recent intriguing data from fMRI scans that reveal, in some cases, that we are driven by the limbic brain (the amygdala) which is so tenuously linked to the cortex where our higher mental processes are carried out. The theme is reminiscent of a long-forgotten book by Arthur Koestler (The Ghost in the Machine), written well before fMRI scanning was invented, in which he discusses consequences for humanity of this uncertain communication channel.

In her penultimate chapter, Heffernan discusses some cases of whistle blowers, the truly courageous and invariably persecuted people who are driven by higher moral instincts to take a stand when they have seen that misdemeanour must be exposed.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book and a real page turner 28 Jan 2011
By denbex
Format:Paperback
I found this book fascinating and couldn't put it down. The book is both authoritative and extremely readable. Margaret Heffernan uses research evidence well. Like many others I already knew the Milgram research but she presents it freshly and she does the same with the other research evidence that she uses. I liked the way in which she included aspects of her own "wilful blindness" to illustrate how we all are prone to this condition at times. The juxtaposition of wilful blindness in business and wilful blindness in a social setting is masterly. The consequences of wilful blindness can be devastating; the implications of the story of the people of Libby, Montana should be a lesson to everyone. This book helps everyone to think again.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Troubling Stuff 25 Feb 2011
By William Cohen VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the kind of book that makes Sunday newspapers obsolete. It's well-informed, pacy, full of good stories and good fun. It manages to be very depressing and at the same time rather inspiring. Having worked for a few institutions, I've discovered that I'm best suited to working on my own, and Margaret Heffernan explains why. In organisations, people start seeing things from their own point of view, or perhaps more importantly turning a blind eye to what's really going on. There are loads of toe-curling stories about how charismatic people in high places can squash lesser minions who have the temerity to challenge their authority.

I even think that Professor Heffernan is too optimistic. One of my favourite films is One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest which is a wonderful story about how authority works. Jack Nicholson is the spirited, articulate rebel but he doesn't manage to escape, in fact he is destroyed. It's the man who pretends to be deaf and dumb, even though he's not deaf and dumb who manages to break out of the system. The film shows that if you want to have a smooth ride, expressing no opinion and not reacting to anyone else, is probably the shrewdest policy. The sad fact for whistleblowers is that EVERYBODY hates them. People want to avoid conflict and keep things ticking over.

As a person who survives on a very small income it was clear to me the economy was sailing over the edge of a cliff in 2002. But there was absolutely nothing you could do about it. And that's very much my policy towards institutional failings. You've got to be very careful when you see the Emperor has no clothes, because lots of people choose to believe he is wearing clothes.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought provoking book 2 April 2011
Format:Paperback
I bought my copy after hearing Margaret Heffernan speak on a radio programme. Using many known, and less well known theories and findings from the worlds of psychology and business the author sets about de-mythologising the most commonly held truths of individual and in-group behaviour.
It is very well written,(literate - sic), enjoyable and challenging.
I would suggest that anyone concerned or reflective of their own behaviour or the behaviour and functioning of groups/organisations will find it of real interest.
Readers who don't normally buy books concerning business theory (myself included because they are largely badly written tosh) might want to order a copy as a this book has lessons that can be applied to many contexts.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid analysis, would benefit from editing, perhaps a little guilty...
I enjoyed this book and liked how the various ways in which we delude ourselves are analysed and categorised. Read more
Published 5 hours ago by Mike in Sussex
5.0 out of 5 stars help to understand what seems like corruption is perhaps just human...
An insightful book which made me reconsider the actions I have seen people take which I thought were lacking in integrity at the time but now consider may have been just... Read more
Published 17 days ago by C. Spencer Weatherley
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting book
I saw Margaret Hefferman on TV which is why I went and bought the book. Really interesting to see what we do in our owns minds to avoid conflict. A good read.
Published 1 month ago by Mr. Alexander Watt
5.0 out of 5 stars An important book for tackling our mixed responses to climate change...
This is a powerful book that has a lot to say to people worried about how we tackle climate change and global warming issues, and how we tend to hope for a miracle cure or fix for... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Daniel Halevi Bloom
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging subject, accessible prose
A really good read. Thought provoking. Exploring how and why we all are silenced and how hard it is to speak truth to power.
Published 4 months ago by Rocknessjude
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking
Very interesting and enjoyable read, with lots of recent case studies drawn upon. I would recommend it to anyone interested in organisational culture, effective leadership and... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Valerie Sheridan
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read
I haven't finished this yet but it is an excellent read. Well written and very interesting covers multiple examples including medical and industry incidents. Thoroughly recommend.
Published 9 months ago by Sq
3.0 out of 5 stars In the kingdom of the blind ...
Wilful blindness is a legal term for the state where a person wilfully closes their eyes to events that should otherwise be obvious to them. Read more
Published 10 months ago by I Read, Therefore I Blog
4.0 out of 5 stars A book to make you think
A book that is readable, concise in its use of helpful examples to illustrate the point.
And it really makes you stand back and think about corporate power and responsibility,... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Bridge View
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent- read it and learn a lot.
This is an excellent book.

It is an account of how people and groups manage to entirely miss seeing things. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Dr. Nicholas P. G. Davies
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what’s most frightening about this process is that, as we see less and less, we feel more comfort and greater certainty. We think we see more – even as the landscape shrinks. &quote;
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The problem with models, in other words, is that they imply that whatever does not fit into them isn’t relevant – when it could be the most relevant information of all. &quote;
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