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Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. Margaret Heffernan
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Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. Margaret Heffernan

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  383 ratings  ·  67 reviews
Why after every major accident and blunder do we look back and ask how we could have been so blind? Why do some people see what others don't? How can we change? Drawing on studies by psychologists and neuroscientists, and from interviews with business leaders, whistle-blowers, and white collar criminals, distinguished businesswoman and writer Margaret Heffernan examines th ...more
Paperback, 391 pages
Published February 1st 2012 by Simon & Schuster (first published February 1st 2011)
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Jennifer Stone
I purchased the audio version of the book and enjoyed listening to Margaret Heffernan read her book. Although the book's purpose is to heighten our awareness of our own shortcomings, her tone is neither preachy nor shill. She makes her points powerfully, with calm authority. I enjoyed her British accent, and it was easy to imagine her sitting across a table from me, discussing the issues in the book.

Prior to listening to "Willful Blindness," I'd read about a dozen books about failed decision mak
Anandh Sundar
The book is indeed a gem and deserves its awesome ratings. Read this for a cross discipline idea on why we are like ostriches burrying their head in the sand. The book is really a great critical thinking resource, written for the layperson.
Some extracts below
In the book's initial chapter, the author summarizes the book much more than I better could--->When we are willfully blind, it is in the presence of information that we could know, and should know, but don’t know because it makes us feel
Great book, with the title proving more than a appropriate. The author's willful blindness is her political bias, which plays peek-a-boo throughout the book. She examines - and continually revisits - specific incidents in recent history, then judges who was blind to what. For instance, a BP disaster was due in part to how huge the company was, with too few people stretched too thin over vast distances to really know how to prevent or respond to a crisis. A better system would be emphasis on loca ...more
I thought this a quite extraordinary book that has changed my view of the world and certainly given me ways to uncover my blindspots. It covers a vast area of human activity from business, environment, personal life and all around the 19th century legal idea that if for instance you carry a bag of stolen goods but don't look inside you are guilty of willful blindness and not innocent. There is so much in modern life that we are willfully blind in and unfortunately, I have come to think that the ...more
This book took me longer to finish than some others. While the ideas are thought provoking, I often got lost in the quick changes of a new subject or example. The different stories shifted so quickly, and she would go back to them suddenly in the midst of another one. It was a little confusing. Also, I can't say that I was completely aware of all of the examples used (like the downfall or scandals of certain companies) and they weren't always fully explained.

Ultimately though, the information w
Xavier Shay
Plenty of research and inteviews, easy to read. I couldn't help but feel something was missing though ... maybe some reasoning wasn't as robust as I would like. Somewhat of a depressing book, for instance:
- Scientists infiltrated a cult preaching the end of the world, when the world didn't end (i.e. explicit falsification) their belief was *stronger* than before.
- Residents of Libby were all given cancer by the local asbestos mine, which the owning company new about, but even after it was expose
Jennifer Rolfe
I read a review of this in (of all places) Country Style magazine and noted it down to read and I am so, so glad I did. I borrowed this copy from the library and am going to have to buy my own copy so I can go back to it again and again.
The book is about how we turn a blind eye when we know that something is not quite right or we witness blatant transgressions. She includes domestic and work and community where various practices have occurred that were either unethical or illegal or both and hav
Alice W.
I found this book enthralling. It is my non-fiction book of the year for 2012.

It is researched very thoroughly and provides excellent insight into the complexities of wilful blindness. Heffernan explores the topic from how our brains are wired to avoid excess and/or unsettling information, to what makes some people more likely to move from a position of being blind to compelling evidence, to a position of being able to accept it, and change their views.

The book is peppered with an interesting a
Another foray into the workings of the human brain...well researched and footnoted.

...we all strive to preserve an image of ourselves as consistent, stable, competent, and good. Our most cherished beliefs are a vital and central part of who we are--in our own eyes and the eyes of our friends and colleagues. Anything or anyone that threatens that sense of self produces pain that feels just as dangerous and unpleasant as hunger or thirst. A challenge to our big ideas feels life-threatening. And so
Stimulating and provocative . I liked a great deal. but thought the author pushed his hypotheses too far. Many of us our familiar with the video that instructs us to count the number of times the white shirts on a basketball team pass the ball. As we focus on that exercise, most new-bees miss a man in a gorilla suit strutting thru center court. Ok , when we focus on some things - or specialize- we miss others- fair enough.The argument is developed, "by focusing in one direction and excluding oth ...more
Eamonn Blaney
In her latest book, Heffernan argues that the biggest threats and dangers we face are the ones we don't see – not because they're secret or invisible, but because we're willfully blind. She examines the phenomenon and traces its imprint in our private and working lives, and within governments and organizations, and asks: What makes us prefer ignorance? What are we so afraid of? Why do some people see more than others? And how can we change? Examining examples of willful blindness in the Catholic ...more
Peter O'Brien
"All of us want to bury our heads in the sand when taxes are due, when we have bad habits we know we should change, or when the car starts to make that strange sound. Ignore it and it will go away - that's what we think and hope. It's more than just wishful thinking. In burying our heads in the sand, we are trying to pretend the threat doesn't exist and that we don't have to change. We are also trying hard to avoid conflict: if the threat's not there, I don't have to fight it. A preference for t ...more
Margaret Heffernan juxtaposes local, global and national events and entities (BP explosions 2005-2010, MCI, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Enron, My Lai, Merck/Vioxx/ FDA, W.R. Grace/Libby Montana, Katrina/FEMA/New Orleans, et al.) with ongoing research on obedience, conformity, bias, fear, workload, overload, how the brain functions and more--and explores the complexities surrounding who speaks up and who looks away when subtle and not-so-subtle evidence emerges that something is wrong.

I found
Excellent read. I read this book primarily to try to understand why people deny climate change. Longer review with that goal in mind here:

In general this is an excellent book to understand organizational challenges and the need for critical thinking and outside perspectives.
Did you know that a large percentage of dentists have a name that starts with D? That we end of married to people that are quite like us--going beyond "opposites attract". Remember the Kitty Genovese murder in NYC in 1964 where no one came to the rescue? Then there's good old Enron, and Bear Stearns, and MCI.
This author weaves together the psychological test results, facts, and fascinating information on how we really behave. Best of all, she's eminently clear and organized. People are so compl
Recommended by a friend. Skimmed it. Too much like many books I've already read, too much repetition for me in terms of the studies and stories - everyone who writes these books seems to like the same research, and the writing was not engaging enough for more than a quick skim.
Bruce Prescott
Outstanding book! Two thumbs up! Highly recommended!

Essential reading for the willfully blind guides leading the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and CBF Oklahoma.
Wens Tan
It's quite depressing to know that our brains are wired not only to willfully blind ourselves to evidences that contradict our beliefs, but to perform cognitive acrobatics to rationalize away the contradictions. Power, money, identity, need for social acceptance and conformity, and cognitive overload can all contribute to the blindness. Hefferman writes as a journalist would. The book is paced quickly, with references both to well-known academic studies and business anecdotes in how they support ...more
Must read

Ms Heffernan delivers a wonderful collections of instances in which we blind ourselves to many situations and points of view. Her had fundamentally changed the way a look at the world. Her view on the utility of Wikileaks, is debatable. I feel that it endangered lives.
It was a quite interesting book. A bit different from my usual taste, but contains a bunch of very good examples. I liked it.
Excellent, very thought-provoking
A brilliant, must-read study of modern people's many habits of self-delusion and selective perception. It tries to offer a few strategies for overcoming these pitfalls in its final chapters, but it has done such a smashing job up until then of explaining how intrinsic and entrenched are our bad habits that its own attempts to suggest they can be conquered seem thin and implausible. Still gets five stars for explaining the problem, with ample scientific support and clear, cogent analysis and enga ...more
Decent treatment of a range of issues better addressed by the people she footnotes: Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky, Dan Ariely, Daniel Pink, etc.

Interesting data on effects of sleep deprivation on work performance; value of a true 40-hour work week. Reinforced the importance of seeking to disconfirm hypotheses (vice feeding out natural confirmation bias) -- great example about cases of childhood leukemia in the UK and Dr. Stewart's research in the 1950s.

A bit overdone in parts.
Jane Walker
Excellent, thought-provoking book which examines the reasons why, in all kinds of environment and organisation, people ignore the obvious. She cites plenty of academic studies and reports, but has also interviewed lots of individuals, many of whom were whistle-blowers. Since Heffernan has been both a businesswoman and a journalist, she writes with clarity and from personal knowledge. Of course, one could argue with her at times, but her thesis is that we should do just that!
Although this book covers a lot of ground that's been covered before, paricularly in the realm of lab experiments such as the famed "gorilla in the basketball game" test, Ms. Heffernan does add a twist or two. There are some fresh looks at whistleblowers and an interesting notion that diversity helps avoid "willful blindness" to issues that surround us (not sure that I buy into her argument, but it's interesting reading).

Stephanie Burke
This book was difficult to read, but very valuable. So many things that happen in this world that we get upset about once it comes to light were known and ignored by many, many people: like Enron and Abu Ghraib. The author talks about human nature and why these things happen and people continuously ignore it. And then she talks about whistle blowers, who they are, why they do what they do and why most people hate them.
Interesting in how we have blindspots and choose to ignore the obvious ones. The book does make one realize that we need to constantly reflect on our observations of life as we tend to choose to remember the things that fit our perspective or point of view. We choose to ignore the obvious issues that don't support our cause. This is an easy to read book that covers our basic pyschology.
Suparna Gupta
Very convincing argument with plenty of evidence. I understand the point of bringing in many examples from various spheres to support the argument, but after a while I felt that the case had been made and could have been summarized in an article. Furthermore, the book does not provide much in practical advice for the average person to counteract the problem, which would have been a plus.
Heffernan surveys a variety of ways that people will themselves not to see what surrounds them...everything from infidelity to the Enron scandal. At first it feels sort of laundry list-y but Heffernan then ties it altogether. The first and last chapters didn't completely convince me, but the book forces you to reflect on your own behavior and for that I think it's an important read.
Amazing, a ridiculous amount of insightful research and ah ha moments. It really got me thinking about experiences in my personal and professional lives.

Loved the "my brain made me do it" comment about how neural research is giving people an excuse for doing things.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in social or organisational behaviour.

Loved it.
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