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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

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  450 ratings  ·  73 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
Daniel Ionson
This book deserves a review, but this is so close to the Mistakes Were Made... book, that I should paste the same here. Or, perhaps I'm just really lazy.


What this book exposes, sometimes bringing laughs, sometimes shock and horror, is how blind we can all be. And this means everyone, even though the blindness reaches into the absurd.

The science for cognitive dissonance/biases is solid: We, through a mixture of subtle mechanisms, find ways of deceiving
Heffernan's Willful Blindness represents a good effort summarizing the 'drivers of willful blindness' for which she includes "our preference for the familiar, our love of individuals and for big ideas, a love of busyness and our dislike of conflict and change, the human instinct to obey and conform, and our skill at displacing and diffusing responsibility" (p.198).

She addresses the tendency of homogenizing our individual environments, like-minded people developing their own groupthink. An intere
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
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
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
Faith Wood
In spite of our protests to the contrary, we as individuals prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar. We prefer to surround ourselves by people who think like us and share our ideals and values. We crave conformity over critical thinking and individuality - heck our schools and industries are filled with examples of talented people ‘towing the party line’. This may allow us to construct a world around us that feels cozy and safe but it also blinds us to valuable information and behaviours that shou ...more
Marti Tirinnanzi
I cannot say enough about this great piece of non-fiction. The title comes from the judge of the Enron case against Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, who were both found responsible for the Enron failure, and that they knew what was happening with the company but "Willful Blindness" kept them from acting as responsible executives. This book is a fascinating account about choices that people often make not to do the right thing, preferring to be willfully blind. From BP to the Royal Navy, to WR Grace ...more
This books offers many compelling cases of willful blindness--where people unintentionally ignore what they should see but is often uncomfortable until disaster strikes. Many of these situations seem incredible but the reality is everyday we have to narrow our focus because there simply is too much information. The trick is to remain truly open minded and embrace those dissenting voices, even encouraging them. Needless to say, I think this book is a 'must read.' Many of the cases I was already f ...more
Robert C.
Rather a tiresome book that spend far too much time explaining what's wrong and then far too little time telling us how to put it right.

Basically, the world is in a parlous state and we're in denial - there, that's the first 8 chapters covered.

In essence, the last 2 chapters tell us that we have to stop denying that there is anything wrong with the way the world works and start trying to put it right.

I went to see a play last night called 'Outsiders' that tried to shed some light on the human co
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 com
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.
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.
This book is the reason i am making a shelf called must-reads. This wasnt a quick read... it wasnt shake you reality life changing... but if everyone knew the information in this book the world would change for the better immediately. I need everyone to read this book. Especially everyone i might work with.

This book will help you understand so much of why smart people can be so stupid. It will allow you to plan to protect your self from that smart stupidity and that is something that absolutely
It was a quite interesting book. A bit different from my usual taste, but contains a bunch of very good examples. I liked it.
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!
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