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Wilful Blindness

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  977 Ratings  ·  120 Reviews
In the 2006 case of the US Government vs Enron, the presiding judge instructed the jurors to take account of the concept of wilful blindness as they reached their verdict about whether the chief executives of the disgraced energy corporation were guilty. It was not enough for the defendants to say that they did not know what was going on; that they had not seen anything. I ...more
Kindle Edition, 400 pages
Published (first published February 1st 2011)
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Jennifer Stone
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-psych
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
May 18, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Robert Day
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
Explores the tangle of factors that can lead people and organizations to be willfully blind to perils and moral failures. Some of the ground Heffernan covers is familiar (eg the Milgram experiment, Kitty Genovese's death - I remember both of these from first year psychology), but others are fresh and in any case the way she puts her argument together makes it thought-provoking and timely. 3.5 stars.
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very readable blend of history, psychology, and science that looks at how human nature often makes us overlook threats and dangers that should otherwise be obvious. Using examples such as Enron's bankruptcy, the 2008 housing bubble, the 1964 Kitty Genovese murder, Bernie Madoff's investment scams, and two - that's right, two - BP Oil disasters, Heffernan lays out a case that critical thinking continues to be in short supply today.
Great case studies and examples of this concept of willful blindness related to large organizations and personal lifestyle choices, including helpful prompts for self assessment based on the case study failures and successes.
Surita du Toit
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I must confess here, that most of the books I read…eh-uhm… "read”, are actually audio books. It just frees up so much time that I would otherwise spend washing dishes or doing laundry. (Yes the faceless beings on the interwebz also have laundry)

The reason why that is relevant is because this book is narrated by the author herself. Not only is she eloquent in her writing, she is also a compelling narrator. She understands that people tell stories better than numbers and statistics so the text is
Oct 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Trey McIntyre
Lots of REALLY provocative information here and presented in a thought-provoking way.

But it also contains a fair amount of question-begging and presumptions of fact. That's understandable, I suppose, since outlining an entire treatise on the ethical perspective, research background, and culture from which the author is speaking is usually FAR afield of any text.

I'm not sure if this is a quick read or not. I spent most of my day in airports and so I was able to finish the whole audiobook in a si
Wens Tan
Oct 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Susan McCutcheon
I love this writer. Margaret Heffernan gets you thinking about how you think. Here's my favorite quote from her book, Willful Blindness:
"Being a critical thinker starts with resisting the urge to be a pleaser."
She embeds stories and examples that make this deep subject a fascinating read.
Dana Reynolds
Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was profound how often such blindness is due to conformity to the emotional status quo of the group. Worth reading to understand this phenomena at a deep, experiential level. We've all been there. Heffernan's book helped me to understand why.
Gavin McGrath
This is a fascinating if not shocking book! The propensity we all have to wilful blindness is fascinatingly shocking. Heffernan gives example after example - from the business world, health care, manufacturing, and education. The problem is ubiquitous.

What makes Heffernan’s book a tad laborious is, in my mind, the voluminous repetition chapter after chapter. I found myself thinking ‘enough already’. This led me to skim read chapters, hoping to have concise summaries. More importantly, there isn
Michael May
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Too repetitive

The idea is important and at the heart of many disasters. So the book should have its place. Unfortunately the author repeats over and over again variants of exactly the same theme. What might have saved it for me would have been some really practical steps to tackle this, a structured approach. The best in order though are anecdotal references to what some have done.

I am afraid I was left very disappointed by this book and do. It recommend it. The first and last chapters are more
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well this explains it. I've been intending on writing a comic on this subject for awhile, but I hadn't actually read about it. Willful blindness had always been something I just noticed, whether with myself or others, and it irks me!!

It's all about avoiding conflict really, sticking our heads in the sand. There are a variety of examples of willful blindness in the book. I think it's an important read, and interesting. It would serve us all to understand this concept better, in my opinion.

If it
We often tend to block out the uncomfortable realities of life to save ourselves from the trauma of the past. This books explains how and why we fail to see something that is right in front of us and equips the readers with insights of getting over these fears and facing the truth.
Anyone who wants to understand human psychology or want a better understanding of your own self will definitely enjoy this book.
Denise Lammi
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While the ideas in this book are not new or surprising, the Author’s research and accounts of reasons for the phenomenon are interesting, well documented, and thought provoking.
I found that some of the chapters contained excessive details and examples; and seemed to be unnecessarily drawn out. I often thought to myself, “OK, I get it. Let’s move on.” I suspect the Author considered this overkill necessary to convince certain readers of the magnitude and severity of the situation.
Andrew Plasom-Scott
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating read; important and compelling. Despite disagreeing with some specifics, and being concerned about the selectivity of her examples and interpretations in some instances - and indeed her political understanding - I think that Heffernan describes and explores something extremely important.
Intentionally blinding yourself to reality isn't always bad, but as a general approach, it can be dangerous. In fact, many of the challanges humans face today could be resolved much more easily if people were only willing to open their eyes and see them. By seeking out other perspectives and questioning the world around us, we can avoid falling into complacency and conformity
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael Macdonald
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: working-life, science
Fascinating study of ignoring evil

As society becomes more compliant, why do we disparage dissent and overlook abuse of the weak. Analysing the context of financial scandal and safety breaches that led to disasters such as Texas City, this is a passionate call for change and thought.
Kevin Rhodes
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I came across this book while researching cognitive bias. It is the mother lode. Margaret Heffernan is a marvelous storyteller, and the book's heart is her recounting story after story of the most jaw-dropping examples from all arenas of life -- all of them tempered by a constant awareness that I am as prone to lack of awareness as the next person.
Cyrus Carter
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book on the need for exercising critical thinking in business and in life. Supported by solid examples from business, this book allows the reader to delve into the way each of our minds decides to accept the easy choice over the right choice. Particularly salient in today's political environment in which simplistic solutions Trump those on a moral high ground.
Jun 03, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
Ugh! Loved the idea but wading through all the name dropping stopped me cold. Get to the point!
Pamela Esty
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read! The science and effects of denial. A truly “must read” in any time period, most especially in our current political period.
Peter Hall
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essential reading for those who wonder why the could have been avoided diasters happen.
Sam Chapple
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read, we are all responsible, "willful sightedness" needed.
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MARGARET HEFFERNAN is an entrepreneur, Chief Executive and author. She was born in Texas, raised in Holland and educated at Cambridge University. She worked in BBC Radio for five years where she wrote, directed, produced and commissioned dozens of documentaries and dramas.

As a television producer, she made documentary films for Timewatch, Arena, and Newsnight. She was one of the producers of Out
More about Margaret Heffernan

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“You cannot fix a problem that you refuse to acknowledge.” 19 likes
“As long as it (an issue) remains invisible, it is guaranteed to remain insoluble.” 10 likes
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