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Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril

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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 ignorance? What are we so afraid of? Why do some people see more than others? And how can we change?

We turn a blind eye in order to feel safe, to avoid conflict, to reduce anxiety, and to protect prestige. Greater understanding leads to solutions, and Heffernan shows how--by challenging our biases, encouraging debate, discouraging conformity, and not backing away from difficult or complicated problems--we can be more mindful of what's going on around us and be proactive instead of reactive.

Covering everything from our choice of mates to the SEC, Bernard Madoff's investors, the embers of BP's refinery, the military in Afghanistan, and the dog-eat-dog world of subprime mortgage lenders, this provocative book demonstrates how failing to see--or admit to ourselves or our colleagues--the issues and problems in plain sight can ruin private lives and bring down corporations. Heffernan explains how willful blindness develops before exploring ways that institutions and individuals can combat it. In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Margaret Heffernan's Willful Blindness, is a tour de force on human behavior that will open your eyes.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published February 1, 2011

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About the author

Margaret Heffernan

16 books150 followers
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 of the Doll's House, the prize-winning documentary series about the history of women in the twentieth century.

She designed and executive produced a thirteen part series on The French Revolution for the BBC and A&E. The series featured, among others, Alan Rickman, Alfred Molina, Janet Suzman, Simon Callow and Jim Broadbent and introduced both historian Simon Schama and playwright Peter Barnes to British television. She also produced music videos with Virgin Records and the London Chamber Orchestra to raise attention and funds for Unicef's Lebanese fund.

Leaving the BBC, she ran the trade association IPPA, which represented the interests of independent film and television producers and was once described by the Financial Times as "the most formidable lobbying organization in England."

In 1994, she returned to the United States where she worked on public affair campaigns in Massachusetts and with software companies trying to break into multimedia. She developed interactive multimedia products with Peter Lynch, Tom Peters, Standard & Poors and The Learning Company.

She then joined CMGI where she ran, bought and sold leading Internet businesses, serving as Chief Executive Officer for InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and iCAST Corporation.

She was named one of the Internet's Top 100 by Silicon Alley Reporter in 1999, one of the Top 25 by Streaming Media magazine and one of the Top 100 Media Executives by The Hollywood Reporter. Her "Tear Down the Wall" campaign against AOL won the 2001 Silver SABRE award for public relations.

Her third book, Wilful Blindness (Simon&Schuster in the UK, Bloomsbury in the US, Doubleday in Canada) was a finalist for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Best Business Book award and, in 2014, the Financial Times named it one of its "best business books of the decade.” Her next book A Bigger Prize (Simon&Schuster in the UK, Public Affairs in the US and Doubleday in Canada) won the Transmission Prize. Her most recent book Beyond Measure : The Big Impact of Small Changes was published in 2015. Her TED talks have been seen by over 5 million people. She has been invited to speak at all of the world’s leading financial services businesses, the leading FTSE and S&P corporations as well as the world’s most successful sports teams. She continues to advise private and public businesses, to mentor senior and chief executives and to write for the Financial Times and Huffington Post.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 183 reviews
Profile Image for Jennifer Stone.
3 reviews10 followers
July 10, 2013
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 making, such as "Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). The constant theme among them all is that we make ourselves powerless by pretending we don't know. Whether we are blind to our own shortcomings or blind to others' deceptions, we suffer in the end from this lack of knowing. Because the theme has been explored by so many others, I wondered if Heffernan would have anything original to say.

I found the book to be filled with tremendous insight into the paradox of the human condition. For example, Heffernan tells a story about her own life and her decision to marry a man with a serious heart problem that would, inevitably, lead to his death before the age of 40. Why would she blind herself to the fact of his medical condition and marry him, even after his other girlfriends had left him for healthier mates? It was love, she says. Our love for each other and our blindness to the faults of each other is part of the human condition. It is part of who we are. We are, in general, overly optimistic, wear rose colored glasses, trust others more often than we should, and typically fail to put all the facts together into a whole until confronted with a terrible, irreparable truth.

When does this blindness become dangerous, she asks? When there is harm, she says, especially when damage is done to the innocent, like children. So it is vitally important to learn how to trust our instincts, to have difficult conversations, and to take back any form of power that we might have given away. None of this is easy, she points out.

Other books on the topic make change seem so lineal: just realize how flawed your decision-making can be, and follow the instructions on how to remove one's blind spots. The great value of "Willful Blindness" is first pointing out through the use of stories how very human it is to be flawed, and then to heighten awareness of the value of recognizing difficult truths. Heffernan calls us to be better versions of ourselves, and because of her book, I think that we can.
Author 3 books117 followers
March 6, 2016
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 ourselves, of editing our memories and perceptions to justify the conclusions that serve us. This is our daily habit. This is how we make it through our days to minimize the conflict that comes from being in the wrong.

This is one of those books that everyone should read. The funny thing is, everyone who reads it wants "certain Other people" to read it. The real trick is to read it for ourselves, and meditate on it for ourselves. Only then can we possibly begin to remove our blindness.
672 reviews20 followers
November 30, 2012
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 better not to know..The world is full of Cassandras, individuals whose fate it is to see what others can’t see, who are not blind but compelled to shout their awkward, provocative truths...Groups have the potential, in other words, to be smarter than individuals; that’s the case put forward so compellingly by James Surowiecki in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds. But the problem is that, as our biases keep informing whom we hire and promote, we weed out that diversity and are left with skyscrapers full of people pretty much the same..Media companies understand this perfectly. They know that when we buy a newspaper or a magazine, we aren’t looking for a fight...There is a special narcissim in the belief that we, and our times, are special, that we are so smart that we have nothing to learn from the past—even about who we are.To paraphrase Edmund Burke, all that evil needs to flourish is for good people to see nothing—and get paid for it.Higher-order thinking is more expensive. So too are doubt, skepticism, and argument. “Resource depletion specifically disables cognitive elaboration,”Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions. Nobody wanted to look into the detail.
Profile Image for Robert Day.
Author 5 books28 followers
September 30, 2015
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 condition by proposing that if we don't trust each other, then bad things will happen.

Trouble is, by being called 'Outsiders' it rather preached to the converted. It struck me that it would have better served its purpose by being called 'Insiders'. In this way it would perhaps attract the kind of people that are robust enough to have overcome the problems affecting those who see themselves as Outsiders. They could in this way be inspired to help 'outsiders' to overcome their malaise.

The play's approach is rather like trying to immunize someone against a virus by injecting them with serum derived from the blood of people that haven't been able to fight off the virus themselves - it just doesn't work.

In the same way, this book needs to attract people who are not wilfully blind to the perilous position the world is in, i.e. the people that have the knowledge, strength and money to do something about it.

As it is - there's far too much doom-mongering in this volume and not enough rocket-fuel to inject into the backsides of those that can genuinely assist in putting things right.

It should have 2 stars really, but my glass-half-full nature wouldn't allow that.
25 reviews
March 31, 2022
I heard Margaret Heffernan speak in February and make a casual reference "Willful Blindness." It piqued my interest and I started to read. This is a book that stirred a lot of thought for me. In what areas of my life are there things that I choose to ignore because they're inconvenient or don't fit my worldview? In what areas do I surround myself with people who look/act/think like me and amplify my existing views rather than challenging me to rethink a particular viewpoint with new information that I have either been ignorant of chosen to ignore? What conversations do I need to have and what do I need to study to improve my "eyesight" in the world. And maybe most importantly, where do I need to step up my game and ask harder questions?
This is not a casual read - it is challenging. And we are willfully blind.
Late in the book, Heffernan make reference to many being willfully blind to global warming, but global warming proponents may be willfully blind to other data that contflicts with their conclusions.
I believe my big take away is to do the hard work to try and overcome the comfort of being willfully blind...and to continually pursue being an inquisitive learner.
Profile Image for Jeff Yoak.
811 reviews41 followers
July 30, 2019
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 promising.

In the next few chapters, the author delves into areas she clearly doesn't understand, and then offers mistakes in such arena as examples of willful blindness. It becomes a watered-down catchall to cover mistakes or disagreeing with a majority or with experts and following the direction of your mind. That's the opposite of the evasion she starts to highlight. It was an extreme disappointment.

I hope that I'll have useful and productive thoughts about what I saw in the first couple of chapters, but if I do, it is despite this author and the rest of her book, instead of being with its assistance.
Profile Image for Evan Dewangga.
165 reviews34 followers
November 27, 2022
All about why and how we blind ourselves are undressed thoughtfully in this book. From the blindness caused by love, cultural and racial bias, obedience of rule, herd mentality, and power distance, we as readers can reflect how disturbingly human can become like ostrich when facing reality. Especially in workplace, in the matter of vertical communication, the concept of "pekiwuh" in Javanese culture is not unique, rather it is a part of how power create distance. The managers are enveloped with "power aura" that make vertical communication not as clear as horizontal communication. In this case, power is not advantage, it is handicap.

Heffernan takes on various case of blindness, from the wake-up moment of Hitler's follower, the pedophilia scandal in Catholic church, Jonestown mass suicide, etc. woven with research of human behavior to create this page-turner book. Recommended for everyone eager to know how we blind ourselves willingly or unwillingly just to follow our primitive animal instinct.
Profile Image for Rhys.
696 reviews93 followers
May 21, 2015
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 interesting point Heffernan makes is how these groups tend to become more extreme: "This is natural but it isn’t neutral. In what he calls the “group polarization effect,” legal scholar Cass Sunstein found that when groups of like-minded people get together, they make each other’s views more extreme" (p.16). Something we see every day.

Groupthink is supported by personal exhaustion and the overstimulation typical of modern society: "When we are tired or preoccupied – conditions psychologists call 'resource-depleted' – we start to economize, to conserve those resources. Higher-order thinking is more expensive. So too are doubt, skepticism, and argument. "Resource depletion specifically disables cognitive elaboration,” wrote Harvard phycologist Daniel Gilbert. “Not only does doubt seem to be the last to emerge, but it also seems to be the first to disappear.""(p.78).

Our inability to doubt or use other higher cognitive functions exacerbates the problem of groupthink and our ability to respond to what we collectively need to see when we need to see it - the crisis of capital or climate change being modern examples.

The ending was disappointing, but not untypical. We need to hear the Cassandras, even though everything prevents us from doing so. "Cassandras may see the truth, but they inspire fury because those truths were so energetically and necessarily hidden, and because their revelations demand change. We side with the truth teller but, in the comfort of the theater, we don’t have to bear the cost" (p.219).



Profile Image for Trey McIntyre.
249 reviews4 followers
April 25, 2017
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 single day of pretty dedicated reading. Nevertheless, I think there's a lot of meat in this book.

The only thing I would say is that you should follow the author's advice and question everything... even the claims she makes both directly and indirectly.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
6 reviews
August 30, 2016
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 books premise is it's popularity as a "ground-breaking" topic.
Profile Image for Chris Boutté.
Author 8 books145 followers
December 23, 2020
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 this book ASAP.
Profile Image for Terri King.
36 reviews
November 9, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
23 reviews41 followers
January 3, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Susan McCutcheon.
Author 1 book4 followers
January 26, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Alison Jones.
Author 5 books41 followers
August 6, 2019
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 uncomfortable or demanding – and explores it in forensic detail across multiple arenas. She brings in psychology and neurology alongside political, environmental and business case studies.

She also celebrates those who, at massive personal inconvenience, choose to see and to force others to see: the ‘Cassandras’ and whistle-blowers who are so often reviled and resisted but whom we desperately need. If you have a sense that something is wrong, and you cannot understand why no one else seems to care or even notice, you’ll find a deeper understanding of what’s going on and encouragement to take action here.

Choosing to see takes real moral courage and cognitive effort, and it goes against so much of our most fundamental neurology. For most of us the overriding imperative is to fit in, to stay in the safety of the herd: ‘Under social pressure, most of us would simply rather be wrong than alone.’

Given that we are wired to be willfully blind, and that every commercial imperative reinforces that tendency, no company can rely on goodwill, good management and common sense to protect it from becoming the subject of the latest financial, health and safety or supply chain scandal.

This puts a difficult obligation on leaders: how can we balance the benefit of the herd, the sense of belonging and the focus on productivity, with the need to protect those who have things to say that will bring disruption and discomfort? One important aspect is diversity:

‘That’s why diversity matters so much: not (as is still commonly assumed) in the interests of political correctness, but in the interest of vigorous debate and divergent thinking… when the people around your table come from different places – mentally, socially, intellectually – they are more likely to ask the questions which reveal something previously invisible.’

Heffernan’s writing is superb – engaging and incisive, a perfect balance of storytelling and hard-edged research. She is also master of the brisk aside: apropos of the cognitive impact of attentional load on attentional capacity she notes that:

‘The idea that multitasking is women’s unique contribution to the workplace is really nothing more than an excuse for getting the underpaid to overwork.’

Given that the issue is so intractable, it’s perhaps no surprise that Heffernan offers no easy solution – but her passionate call to awareness is perhaps the best answer. Really, all leaders need to do is to be willing to be aware and, once aware, take action. Once you make space for the conversation, the hidden things will emerge:

‘When I ask participants to describe the areas in which they think they or their organisations might be wilfully blind, it takes only minutes for the conversation to begin. Everyone knows. Everyone always knows. Removing the impediments to those dialogues is an essential first step.’
Profile Image for Emmkay.
1,169 reviews73 followers
July 6, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Joseph.
463 reviews2 followers
June 7, 2017
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.
May 26, 2022
Just following orders

More often than not, we are making bad choices because we are unable to challenge the status quo.
Profile Image for Barry.
250 reviews3 followers
May 8, 2012
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 other , we become blind to the experiences that don't match". Point after excellent point is made- but then the author's moral preferences become the standard of seeing versus blindness. The articulation starts to veer to the left. "We can always use our salary, our career, to justify turning a blind eye to what we know is wrong" and more "Money blinds us to our social relationships, creating a sense of self- sufficiency that discourages mutual support" in fact " The farther removed we become from our neighbors, the moral siloed in our self- sufficiency , the easier to treat people as things, to turn a blind eye to the human costs of toxic cultures, and to take immoral decisions.

So now we have it. Self- sufficiency is ultimately a bad thing Those who see, can recognize toxic cultures- choosing what the author does not agree with is willful blindness. I don't agree at all. The Buber ideal of "I - Thou"- vs "I-It" is beautiful, but not achievable when we interact directly and indirectly with the scale of humans present in our modern societies. Treating people as things and not dealing with their individual humanity sounds great. but really try to get to work on time and empathize with all the people with problems that you encounter- I am sure the a bus driver, and street clean are great folks , but i interact with them commercially for a function, and can not choose intimacy with the thousands- can anyone? Choosing self interest , needs to provide for a family, may be crass and not on the plane of the Greats- but people need to survive. Cost benefit analysis is a choice. That is not blindness . It is willful choosing. There are insights in this book on thinking out of the box to avoid conformity- and that is great, but the inherent moralizing is willful patronizing, - I have already had a father- not looking for a new one
Profile Image for Surita du Toit.
19 reviews1 follower
March 15, 2017
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 rich with first hand accounts, and she tells these stories with such a sense of respect and dignity that you are reminded that these people were just people. Flesh and blood human beings. It makes it easier to remember that we are all at risk if turning a blind eye, and that if it could happen to them, it could happen to us.

I thouroughly enjoyed this book. I’ve listened to it start to finish three times already and will probably listen to it again. Why do we ignore the obvious? Read this book and Margaret Heffernan will tell you just how far people will go to fool themselves, how limited your mind’s capacity for input is and why claiming you didn’t know is not a defense in court.

You are responsible if you could’ve known and should’ve known something, but instead you strove not to see.

The narrative is exceptionally organic and she leads you into her next point so smoothly that you sometimes don’t even realize the topic has changed. This was a fascinating, captivating read and I recommend it to anyone wishing to learn how to avoid the obvious errors, why working more hours makes your workforce less productive and why things blow up before people finally come forward with the truth.

For more reviews visit www.thereadingraves.wordpress.com
55 reviews1 follower
October 11, 2011
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 local, on-site management, which has better information and reaction time. Yet later, when discussing Hurricane Katrina, the author flips the scale. She lays significant fault at the federal government - arguably larger and stretched much more thin then BP - while ignoring the incompetence at the local level. That's one example of her political bias manifesting itself, as it does several times throughout the book. If you can look past it, it's a worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Ed.
333 reviews30 followers
June 1, 2013
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 modern day Republican Party in the US has this disease very strongly. Plenty of willful blindness among liberals but it has become the whole core of GOP thinking to its cost and to the cost of the US. But hey this is not a political book and should be of interest across the spectrum to those with open minds.
Profile Image for Emily McIntyre.
44 reviews
October 11, 2020
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 taught and the conclusions I've drawn, and the best thing I can do as a professional and as a human is to try and challenge those things whenever possible. Discomfort is an indication of heading in the right (that is, less blind) direction.
Profile Image for Wens Tan.
61 reviews5 followers
October 2, 2011
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 her theme. In such popular psychology books, depth is sometimes lacking, but her aim is to get a message across, and that message is sobering.
20 reviews
November 25, 2019
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. The author intends you to read the cases and understand for yourself what you can do to your situations.
12 reviews
February 23, 2020
A deeply important book for anyone who cares about issues that others refuse to acknowledge - while it could use more strategies for addressing wilful blindness in others I find the rest of the book covering the causes of wilful blindness was really worthwhile. The audiobook is well narrated, too. I would definitely recommend it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Randy Ades.
242 reviews12 followers
July 20, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Dana Reynolds.
87 reviews1 follower
July 23, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Antony Simpson.
Author 3 books1 follower
November 3, 2018
Review from AntonySimpson.com:

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 businesses operate today.

Heffernan started talking to people, lots of people, from different professional backgrounds and they all knew what she was talking about.

They were all able to give examples of Wilful Blindness in their lives.

In Wilful Blindness, Heffernan identifies the causes and gives examples of the negative consequences of Wilful Blindness. She explains how to expand your mind to be less susceptible to the epidemic of Wilful Blindness.

Heffernan uses psychology to explain human behaviour when it comes to Wilful Blindness and suggests that:
- We like people that are the same or similar to ourselves. This can lead to blindness to difference and diversity and the benefits of the challenges that they bring.
- Love of people, ideas, money, things, values, can make us blind.
- Holding on to deeply held beliefs can mean we miss or ignore evidence that is contrary to these deeply held beliefs.
- Everyone’s mind has limits and these limits are stretched to make some very complex organisations, which make it difficult to see the truth or know what’s going on.
- We bury our head in the sand. We hope that difficult issues will go away. We even delude ourselves by not looking, acknowledging or talking about issues.
- We blame external sources for ethically difficult decisions and justify it to ourselves and other by stating: I was just doing my job.
- Cultures, conformity and the craving for acceptance from our peers can make us blind to other, broader or different perspectives.
- People that see what others are blind to and do nothing reinforce the status quo. Not only that, but they also imply through omissions that everything that makes up the status quo is acceptable.
- Physical distance from a situation or problem can lead to cognitive dissonance and make someone blind.
- Money and the removal of ethics from work makes people obey and conform. They are much less likely to notice issues or be brave enough to make a stand.
- People who challenge Wilful Blindess have a tough time. But common qualities in these people include: a sense of social justice, they are generally nonconformists, they are often trendsetters, they feel compelled to raise an uncomfortable truth, they have determination, a high level of resilience, they obsess about the truth and the truth others are ignoring, they have an eye for detail and are willing to suffer both personally and professionally to get others to see the truth.

Throughout Wilful Blindness Heffernan presents a compelling argument and engaging narrative, which is enhanced with fully referenced examples. Examples include: child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, problems in BP, the banking crash caused by subprime mortgages and derivatives (2007-2010), the Nazis in World War 2 and post operative child deaths in Bristol.

Overall the book is a fascinating exploration of human psychology and why we often fail to see the obvious. If you’re interested in psychology, self-awareness, leadership or business you should read this book.

Review soon,

Antony
Profile Image for Ron Peters.
519 reviews5 followers
July 29, 2022
I watched two documentaries about corporate disasters, the Boeing 747 MAX and British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon, then went looking for books on those events. I pressed the wrong button and bought this one by mistake. 😊

The title comes from the judge in the Enron case who chose to employ the legal concept of willful blindness: “you are responsible if you could have known, and should have known, something which instead you strove not to see.”

The book is barely okay. The author gives us a look at instances of willful blindness outside the corporate and government spheres, e.g., marital infidelity, sexual abuse within the family and within the Catholic Church, and groups that predicted an apocalypse that never happened.

But the reality is that willful blindness is not that hard to understand. In most cases, it is attributable to some combination of fear, greed, or a sense of impunity. Hefferman does a pretty good job of talking about contributing factors, e.g., groupthink, obedience to authority, the bystander effect, or oversight problems created by outsourcing. Efforts to countermand some of these could give focus to initiatives for reducing willful blindness in organizations.

She often makes irrelevant digressions, e.g., a discussion of how sleep-deprived and overworked staff have more accidents. Her chapter on whistleblowers is very disappointing: she gives many examples yet fails to give us reasons or insights as to why one person becomes a whistleblower when most will not. This might have made an interesting magazine article, but it is a windy, off-point, disappointing book.
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