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Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious Paperback – 2 Feb 2012
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'Heffernan presents a readable analysis of the way powerful and intelligent people deliberately set aside crucial facts and turn a blind eye to fatal errors and frauds. A polemic against the dangers of docility and "groupthink" in every walk of life, it was another finalist for Business Book of the Year' --Books of the Year, Financial Times
'Writing in clear, flowing prose, (Heffernan) draws on psychological and neurological studies and interviews with executives, whistleblowers and white-collar criminals' --New York Times
'An engaging read, packed with cautionary tales...Heffernan shows why we close our eyes to facts that threaten our families, our livelihood, and our self-image - and, even better, she points the way out of the darkness' --Daniel H. Pink, author of DRIVE and A WHOLE NEW MIND
'Willful Blindness is a remarkable book...It is a tour de force of brilliant insights, broad span applications and written in the most engaging style' --Philip Zimbardo
'Uniquely broad in scope, insightfully analyzed, and engagingly written. This in-depth look at willful blindness is an excellent read' --Albert Bandura
'Entertaining and compellingly argued book' --Sunday Times Supplement
'Writing in clear, flowing prose, (Heffernan) draws on psychological and neurological studies and interviews with executives, whistleblowers and white-collar criminals...the book made me think long and hard about how the pace and priorities of our daily lives can hinder our ability to live as decently and as truthfully as we can' --New York Times
'Heffernan's cogent, riveting look at how we behave at our worst encourages us to strive for our best' --US Publishers' Weekly
'A polemic against the dangers of docility and "groupthink" in every walk of life, it was a finalist for Business Book of the Year' --Books of the Year, Financial Times
`An engaging read... With deft prose and page after page of keen insights, Heffernan shows why we close our eyes to facts that threaten our families, our livelihood, and our self-image - and, even better, she points the way out of the darkness' --Daniel H. Pink, author of DRIVE and A WHOLE NEW MIND
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.
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It happens on both a micro and macro scale. It spans all parts of society. It can have devastating consequences to both individuals and communities.
Wilful Blindness was originally a legal term, but once Heffernan heard the term she started seeing Wilful Blindness everywhere.
In our collective history of the past and in how governments and businesses operate today.
Heffernan started talking to people, lots of people, from different professional backgrounds and they all knew what she was talking about.
They were all able to give examples of Wilful Blindness in their lives.
In Wilful Blindness, Heffernan identifies the causes and gives examples of the negative consequences of Wilful Blindness. She explains how to expand your mind to be less susceptible to the epidemic of Wilful Blindness.
Heffernan uses psychology to explain human behaviour when it comes to Wilful Blindness and suggests that:
- We like people that are the same or similar to ourselves. This can lead to blindness to difference and diversity and the benefits of the challenges that they bring.
- Love of people, ideas, money, things, values, can make us blind.
- Holding on to deeply held beliefs can mean we miss or ignore evidence that is contrary to these deeply held beliefs.
Everyone’s mind has limits and these limits are stretched to make some very complex organisations, which make it difficult to see the truth or know what’s going on.
- We bury our head in the sand. We hope that difficult issues will go away. We even delude ourselves by not looking, acknowledging or talking about issues.
- We blame external sources for ethically difficult decisions and justify it to ourselves and other by stating: I was just doing my job.
- Cultures, conformity and the craving for acceptance from our peers can make us blind to other, broader or different perspectives.
- People that see what others are blind to and do nothing reinforce the status quo. Not only that, but they also imply through omissions that everything that makes up the status quo is acceptable.
- Physical distance from a situation or problem can lead to cognitive dissonance and make someone blind.
- Money and the removal of ethics from work makes people obey and conform. They are much less likely to notice issues or be brave enough to make a stand.
- People who challenge Wilful Blindess have a tough time. But common qualities in these people include: a sense of social justice, they are generally nonconformists, they are often trendsetters, they feel compelled to raise an uncomfortable truth, they have determination, a high level of resilience, they obsess about the truth and the truth others are ignoring, they have an eye for detail and are willing to suffer both personally and professionally to get others to see the truth.
Throughout Wilful Blindness Heffernan presents a compelling argument and engaging narrative, which is enhanced with fully referenced examples. Examples include: child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, problems in BP, the banking crash caused by subprime mortgages and derivatives (2007-2010), the Nazis in World War 2 and post operative child deaths in Bristol.
Overall the book is a fascinating exploration of human psychology and why we often fail to see the obvious. If you’re interested in psychology, self-awareness, leadership or business you should read this book.
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!