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Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious Kindle Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Length: 400 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Product Description


"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

About the Author

MARGARET HEFFERNAN was born in Texas, raised in Holland and educated at Cambridge University. She worked in BBC Radio as a television producer, before leaving to run the trade association IPPA. She returned to the US where she worked on public affair campaigns and with software companies trying to break into multimedia. She then joined CMGI where she ran, bought and sold leading Internet businesses. She is a visiting professor and Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Bath. She is the author of The Naked Truth and How She Does It, and Wilful Blindness. She writes a regular column for Real Business and the Huffington Post.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1044 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: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #52,324 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.

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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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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By William Cohen VINE VOICE on 25 Feb. 2011
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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Very occasionally a book appears that distils a human characteristic that pervades a society which encourages you to rethink your opinions. This is one of those books - a game changer.

It is not that wilful blindness is necessarily a new concept. It has a legal definition and is embedded in British law: "knowledge that can be inferred if a person deliberately blinds himself to the existence of a fact. There is an opportunity for knowledge and a responsibility to be influenced but both are ignored."

But the extent to which wilful blindness is pervasive and is innate in all of us is sobering.

How could the holocaust be tolerated by the German nation? Surely it could not happen to us? A fascinating account of Albert Speer, 2nd in command to Hitler, who blinded himself to the treatment of slave labour and the extermination of the Jews makes you understand his motivation. A man of low self esteem, put down by his family, elevated to high office by Hitler. He owed everything to Hitler - his self esteem, status and position. Did he risk all his personal identity to oppose the final solution? He recognised in his trial the point in 1942 when, if he had wanted to know about the final solution, he could have known. Subsequently he tried to mitigate the effects, but without fully risking his personal position. Can we honestly say we have not taken this approach, albeit on less catastrophic issues?

In the 1950's Alice Stewart produced overwhelming evidence that X raying foetus's of pregnant women was a major cause of childhood leukaemia. But doctors kept on X raying pregnant women for 20 years. Why? Because X ray was a very successful technique on other fields, and hospitals had invested very heavily in X ray machines.
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