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Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril
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Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,354 ratings  ·  165 reviews
Margaret 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. A distinguished businesswoman and writer, 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 ig ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Walker Books (first published February 1st 2011)
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 ·  1,354 ratings  ·  165 reviews

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Jennifer Stone
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Daniel Ionson
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Anandh Sundar
Nov 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 be
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
Jeff Yoak
I suspected that this would be a new favorite book, impactful on my life, in the first chapter or two. It seemed to start an in-depth and experiential look at the phenomenon of evasion. It's one that I've thought and read a lot about, but philosophic and pragmatic analysis has been the mainstay. This, instead, seemed to be a deeper psychological look. At the beginning of the book, when the author lays out the basic idea of willful blindness and gives first-handed and basic examples was extremely ...more
May 18, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Trey McIntyre
Apr 24, 2017 rated it liked it
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
Chris Boutté
Dec 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Why do people ignore what's right in front of their eyes? Why don't we speak up when we know something is wrong? The psychological phenomenon of willful blindness has always intrigued me, and Margaret Heffernan did an incredible job in this book explaining why it happens as well as solutions. This book has a great blend of psychological research along with real stories as examples of how willful blindness hurts us all. If you're a critical thinker and want to take your head out of the sand, get ...more
Alison Jones
This is not a comfortable read, but it is a profoundly worthwhile one. It’s also difficult to categorise: it’s not a business book, exactly, but it speaks so powerfully to the way in which we structure and run our organisations that it should be essential reading for every CEO, and indeed manager.

Heffernan sets out one core idea in this book – the fact that there are things we choose not to see, knowledge we could and should have but deliberately elect NOT to have because to know would be too u
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it
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. ...more
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
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
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
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
Sep 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well written book with lots to real life cases to make you think. BUT, it’s a tedious read!!! This book could’ve been half the volume so author could have kept it succinct. Took me long to finish. Pick this book if you have time and patience.

Wilful Blindness— I could fully agree and relate to what the author is saying. We see it everyday. Reading this book surly makes you more aware of it. But, this is not a self help book which gives you tips and techniques to overcome your wilful blindness.
Jun 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
Humans see what they want to see.
No kidding. You had to write a book about that?
From the mishandling of the research to the broad generalizations about Pandora, Margret Hefferman (not a researcher or a scientist) cobbles together a hackneyed book that has no merit other than to confirm her bland suppositions. There are a lot of books on this topic that are much better written and much better researched by writers who know what they are talking about.
Ironically, perhaps the best argument for the
Terri King
Nov 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a book to read leading up to last night's election. Willful Blindness indeed. The bright side, reading this book helped me truly understand the outcome and hopefully will allow me to see it for what it is and move forward, continuing to be a devil's advocate or cassandra. The struggle is real and unless we speak out, we are assenting to whatever comes our way. ...more
Kayleigh Smith
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
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.
Dana Reynolds
Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Susan McCutcheon
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Antony Simpson
Review from

Wilful Blindness is when a person or people chose to deliberately pretend not to know about or ignore ethically dubious acts.

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 busin
George Odera
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Why is the poor wife peculiarly oblivious to her husband's cheating? Why aren't we sympathetic to views that do not fit within our echo chambers? Why do we aspire to marry people just like us? Why didn't Lehman Brothers shield themselves from the effects of patently toxic mortgages? Why does a boom precede a bust (e.g. the dotcom bubble, the financial crisis, etc)? Why is religion and its cult heroes so influential, for all its shortcomings?
Margaret Heffernan provides an authoritative explanatio
Gavin McGrath
Mar 13, 2018 rated it liked it
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
May 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd recommend this book highly to anyone working in even a small organisational setting - which is all of us these days.

The rare business and societal book that is very thoughtful, offers tremendous insights and takes great pains to put forth counter arguments and challenges long held assumptions. And illustrated in an entertaining and engaging manner through stories from all walks of life.

I personally learned about various types of deliberately 'not seeing' but more importantly the contexts a
Michael May
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
Emily McIntyre
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
At 35, few of the books I read actually shift my perspectives and actions. Recently, Nassim Taleb's "Antifragile" had that effect on me—and so did this book by Margaret Heffernan. Interestingly, the chapter on how money impacts teamwork, company performance, and peoples' moral compasses swayed me in a huge business decision I took as CEO of an importing company. I plan to read this book regularly, if only to remind myself that so much of what I hold as gospel is a smorgasboard of what I've been ...more
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
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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

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