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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars out of darkness
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...
Published on 31 Jan 2011 by inoz

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good advice, but runs out of steam.
Heffernan has a good point to make, although she sadly over eggs her miracle cure that she promises. She runs out of steam at the end, but reading this has led me to think more about challenging my own beliefs and broadening my exposure to critique.
She's no heavyweight intellectual and there is no massive appendix of references as you'd get with e.g. Hitchens,...
Published on 28 Jun 2011 by Amazon Customer


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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars out of darkness, 31 Jan 2011
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. The final chapter `See Better' is a masterly discussion of the wider philosophical and psychological themes that are exemplified by the earlier material.

In recent years, Margaret Heffernan has written extensively on business matters, and it is especially interesting to see that smaller organisations, where internal discussion and criticism is facilitated, can avoid the pitfalls that have wreaked havoc in large complex and hierarchical corporations like BP, where the top down edict of `reduce costs by 25%' have, in the end, led to hugely expensive and fatal catastrophe.

This is a book that no serious business person can afford to ignore. Likewise, it will surely have significant impact for students of psychology and sociology whilst being readable and accessible in a way that will appeal to the general public.
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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
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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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Troubling Stuff, 25 Feb 2011
By 
William Cohen (London) - See all my reviews
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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. Hitler, Enron, house prices - you just have to let these things play out and hope that when they stop, there will be a chance to do something different.

The book shows that the villains usually get away with their gross misjudgements, and a few Google searches show they go on to other positions of power. I read the book in a week and it got me thinking, so well worth the price!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opened my Eyes, 26 Jun 2011
By 
M. Hillmann "miles" (leicester, england) - See all my reviews
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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. The medical establishment did not want the concept of X raying undermined.

On a more personal level Hefffernan looks at the ostrich effect - the temptation all of us face when we get into trouble to not face up to bad news. Horizons narrow and we want to stick our heads in the sand. My wife points out to me Heffernan's evidence of the distraction of mobile phoning when driving. I do not want to hear the evidence.

When Heffernan looks at the drivers of wilful blindness including our preference for the familiar, dislike for conflict and change, a love of busyness, the need for acceptance among our peers, skill at displacing and diffusing responsibility and fascination with individual stars and big ideas, you can see it in yourself.

Familiarity breeds contentment. We are biased in favour of the familiar. Love is blind. Our identity depends critically on all the people we love.

Heffernan provides a neurological explanation likening the development of neural networks in the brain to the creation of a riverbed. Water follows the path of least resistance and the creek deepens. We all face the Status Quo trap: the preference for everything to remain the same. Change feels like redirecting the riverbed: effortful and risky. Change produces conflict.

The organisational forces of wilful blindness are strong in our society including obedience, the desire for conformity, the bystander effect, division of labour and money. She advances the concept that desire for money disengages us from the moral and social effects of our decisions.

Just as you begin to despair of your ability to not be wilfully blind, she focuses on the Cassandras, the devils advocates, dissidents, troublemakers or fools - ordinary folk who have shed their blindness. These people have kept their eyes open and fought for their beliefs often at great personal expense. There are the iconic such as Nelson Mandela, leading medical researchers like Alice Stewart's of childhood leukaemia fame of this world, but also many unknown individuals.

We do not have to be blind. We might hesitate. The cost might be high. But most of us do not wish to go through life blind. We can recognise the homogeity of our lives and reach out to those who do not fit in. We can welcome diversity into our major institutions. We can recognise our biases . We can and should be wary of big ideas, the grand ideologies that neatly answer all questions. We should seek disconfirmation and challenge such big ideas. Bringing in outsiders into institutions is one way to identify unconscious knowledge embedded within organisations.

Food for thought!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars WILFUL BLINDNESS, 11 Mar 2011
By 
J. R. Fowler (Greater London) - See all my reviews
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At times a difficult read, but rewarding. It shows how we turn the proverbial blind eye to matters we do not want to face. It explains some disasters,and the financial collapses of the past few years. If you are in business or just a human being who wants to learn about human nature. read this book. It really is an eye-opener. You will see the world differently after you turn the last page. I know I did.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good advice, but runs out of steam., 28 Jun 2011
Heffernan has a good point to make, although she sadly over eggs her miracle cure that she promises. She runs out of steam at the end, but reading this has led me to think more about challenging my own beliefs and broadening my exposure to critique.
She's no heavyweight intellectual and there is no massive appendix of references as you'd get with e.g. Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins etc. But a worthy read on the path to self improvement.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wilfful Blindness, 21 Mar 2011
By 
Mr. F. J. Wallace (Hampshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This book sheds light on many famous situations where people who had responsibilty for important enterprises failed to recognise glaringly obvious problems and in so doing courted disaster. There are almost too many examples but it makes clear how individuals and indeed large groups of people wilfully blind themselves to situations in order to avoid feeling the discomfort of painful truths. I found it easy to read and the author's views were backed up by references to some very interesting research.

Frank Wallace
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please read this book, 8 Mar 2011
I enthusiastically recommend this book. It is wise, well researched and humane. It is a provocative and persuasive plea for sanity. It is packed with examples of intellectual and moral misconduct - and the reasons behind such behaviour. Unfortunately I fear that the sort of people who should read it are not the sort of people who would read it. I have always believed in the importance of constructive dissent and reading this book has strengthened my conviction. I feel a little more courageous having read it, and convinced that positive change is possible. I hope other readers enjoy a similar experience. If I may end my remarks by recommending another book - apologies to Margaret Heffernan - The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman follows a similar theme and is superb. If the people who run this world read either book - or preferably both - it would be a far better place.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that makes you think about your own life, 26 Aug 2011
By 
A. Sadiq (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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I picked this book up from the shelf to take to holiday. It hasn't disappointed. It has really got me thinking about my own life and workplace. I have always wondered why is it that when everybody knows what's wrong, nobody actaully says anything. We collectively ignore the really obvious problems that everyone knows are there, in our personal and professional lives. This book encourages you, tells you its ok, to start challenging some of these obvious truths. I think its' a very important read for any thinking person. We've been making the same mistakes for many years; it's time we did something different. Thank you Margaret for this work!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should read this book, 8 July 2011
I heard Margaret on the Radio and was enticed to buy the book. I have taken ages to read it as I keep reading a section and then stopping to have a good think. It is so thought provoking, well written and well researched. I have 80 pages to go and am going to see if I can make them last till her next book comes out
Enjoyable, fun interesting and have got at least four friends to get it and read it
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