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on 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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on 2 April 2011
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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Margaret Heffernan is an experienced senior businesswoman and academic, as well as an established writer and speaker on business-related issues and a former writer, director and producer of radio and television drama at the BBC. Her interest in 'wilful blindness' - the psychological phenomenon of willed ignorance of uncomfortable facts - appears to have been triggered by the Enron trial, and more generally by her experiences in business, but her pursuit of the concept and its manifestations takes her further afield than questions of business ethics alone. In the course of this book she draws on examples from, among others, the military, the NHS, the Holocaust and the Catholic Church, as well as the more obvious financial scandals and failures of safety culture in the workplace. The book ranges with unusual freedom and even-handedness between the USA and the UK.

'Wilful Blindness' seeks to offer a reasoned account of the linked phenomena of selective attention and compartmentalisation in physiological and psychological terms, based on Heffernan's extensive familiarity with recent research. The author talks to experts, but also offers a wealth of anecdote from individuals who in their own persons offer instances both of culpable failure to 'see' and - in the case of whistleblowers - of unaccountable refusal to go along with the willed ignorance of their colleagues or organisations, often at great personal price. The result is a highly readable account of a very human failing that has produced some of the most troubling events of our times - from the condonation of torture at Abu Ghraib to the death spiral of investment in financial derivatives during the recent housing bubble.

Unusually for this type of book, in the wake of her analysis Heffernan is also prepared to make detailed, sensible, concrete suggestions for ways in which organisations might try to mitigate the most pernicious effects of groupthink, overconfidence, and a culture of excessive deference to authority. Most of these suggestions may seem like little more than common sense - one example is the need to put an end to the macho cult of excessive hours of work that leads directly to fatigue-induced tunnel vision and moral exhaustion - but Heffernan's book is full of specific examples of the almost fanatical resistance that has been offered in every sphere of life to attempts to carry these 'obvious' reforms into practice.

Inevitably, Heffernan pays a certain amount of attention to material with which many readers interested in this subject are likely to be familiar. The Milgram experiments are the most obvious example. However, it's clear from the extensive notes and bibliography that Heffernan has done her research, and 'Wilful Blindness' is as authoritative and up-to-date as one could reasonably expect from a book aimed at the intelligent general reader rather than the academic.
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on 20 October 2014
Wilful blindness implies that deception depends on self-deception.
Once we appreciate that we allow inertia or the easy way to rule our lives, then we may reconsider if that is what we really want to do with our lives.
But because we are part of society, even self-critical and independent persons may find themselves dragged along by the huge inertia of institutions.

Heffernan uses many interviews or at any rate appears to do so, by looking at personal dilemmas from the viewpoint of those faced with them.
Her business experience is well placed to give insights into the
financial disasters that still beset ordinary people. And she draws from many other occupations examples of how organisations knew all along things were wrong and yet they did not know, because they were never brought out into open debate and dealt with.

Heffernan draws from explanatory research from areas such as
psychology and neuroscience to explain irrational behavior.
And she celebrates the unsung heroes who didnt always go with the
crowd but made a difference, often at great personal cost.

A wise reading of this work might help the reader to see better ways of life. More self-awareness and more social awareness are among the gifts this work offers.
Not just a great book or even an important book but perhaps a vital book to address the frailty of the human condition.
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on 12 April 2011
The idea of the book - yes, it has ONE, repeated endlessly - is that it is human nature to turn a blind eye to information that goes against convention, peer group pressure, and conformity. The consequences are, for example, the financial crisis of 2008, BP, the Irish priest debacle and numerous other examples. For those who find this surprising - and there are obviously large numbers who do - all I can say is they must be unfamiliar with psychology of the last 50 years. Written in lucid prose, this book is really a collection of these presented as top line findings in a humanistic format.

That Margaret Heffernan is also wilfully blind to her own feminist conventional thinking is also pretty obvious. As a committed feminist, she is hell bent on including as many female Cassandras as she can muster. She even states here preference for women like herself early on, and then repeats her prejudices throughout the book, while once in a while denying them. Is she wilfully blind because she is a feminist? While she attacks the Irish priests and the Church over child sex abuse, she has no time for the wilful blindness of the Catholic Church in their attitude towards the Jews throughout history. Is she wilfully blind because she is a Catholic? I can think of a few other cases of the author being the pot who calls the kettle, 'black', but I think I've made my point.

On the whole, this is a well written, interesting account of human being's desire to belong, conform and do incredibly bad things in the name of not standing alone and facing the truth. It is spoiled a bit by the author's own wilful blind spots, but then... no one's perfect.
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on 28 December 2012
Would recommend this book. My only criticism is that the stories within could have been more succinct. I found this side of it boring. I would also have liked a little more expansion on Wilful Blindness!!
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on 18 December 2012
Anybody who thinks outside the box and can't understand the sheep mentality that appears to be all around them will fu=ind thia book invaluable. I have identified an intervention that is unneccessary and I believe (and mounting evidence is showing) is causing irreversible harm. The antipathy, disbelief and resistance to change are baffling but so well explained in the covers of this book. It has helped me in that I realise there are many who have walked this path before me and have had very similar treatment and this is documented wirth numerous examples.
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on 28 April 2015
I was recommended this book but I don't think that person can have read it or else is being wilfully blind to it's message in the present!

Interesting examples but I found I skip read in places....a sure sign that some editing was needed. The end came without real analysis or conclusions.

However I did read to the end, it was OK
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on 6 March 2013
This a very relevant and well researched study of the human tendency to avoid challenging the status quo,and cites examples of the failure of people to do so. Examples range from the personal level of abusive marriages to the bad practice of corporate bodies like Enron, the banks and BP. It is a very readable and salutary warning for our times
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on 1 December 2011
This was given to me by a friend and I started to read it only to humour here as I can't stand self help books. This is an intriguing and fascinating book. It has allowed me to understand many things about the way that society functions and quite a few about the way that I function. I have purchased it for others
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