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?
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 to 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.
©2011 Margaret Heffernan (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
"[Heffernan] gives us an insightful look into the psychology of denial and makes an ethical and pragmatic argument for engagement rather than deflection. Heffernan's cogent, riveting look at how we behave at our worst encourages us to strive for our best." (Publishers Weekly)
Margaret Hefferman makes visible a human failing in “Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril.” In this book she approaches answers to why we willfully ignore what we need to acknowledge the most. The subject is important, according to the author, because we fail to see dangers right before our eyes. From marrying the wrong person, to the Enron fiasco, to the housing bubble, Hefferman alerts the reader to how the persons involved had the requisite information before them all the time and how the situations may have been avoided. Of course, hindsight is better than foresight, but her observations and presentation of research is informative. Hefferman is strongest when applying research to specific situations. She is weakest when she digresses into preaching about current events. She is most informative when she is explaining why organizations and individuals have willful blindness and lacking when she is on a soap box. All of it is valuable, but some of the book is more helpful than others. Her analysis of organizational structure and how it influences the decisions of large organizations is worth the price of the book. She details, for example, the problems of BP in Texas as well as the Gulf spill and explains why top management was blind to what was taking place. Willful blindness afflicts us all. Now, Hefferman has shown light on this timely subject. She reads her own text and does it well.
Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always."
Margaret Heffernan's "Willful Blindness: Why we Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril" (2011) is in Audible's Nonfiction:Science & Technology:Social Science, along with Malcolm Gladwell's books, including "Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking" (2005) and "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference" (2007). Jefferson's "Willful Blindness" is definitely on par with Gladwell's work, but without the publicity Gladwell has, I'm worried that not enough people will find out just how great this book is for people who want to understand what individual and organizational psychological problems can cause monumental failures.
Heffernan begins with a dramatic description of a tragic British Petroleum disaster - but not the 2010 Deep Water Horizon blow out that killed 11 workers and badly harmed a great deal of the coast of the United Stated. She describes the 2005 Texas City Refinery explosion that killed 15 workers and wreaked havoc on a vital part of the economy. Some of the factors that made the workers blind to the problem that caused the explosion were lack of sleep caused by long shifts with not enough time off; not enough workers; and poor design of equipment. Management at the local level didn't have the power to change the situation, and executives determined to cut costs refused to hear them. What's surprising to Heffernan is that when BP's Deep Water Horizon blew, people were astounded. The management and the corporate culture hadn't changed. Why wouldn't it happen again?
Heffernan's book is full of similar case studies, some well known - like the federal government's disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina. Some are not well known - like the installation of pumps that will not work in New Orleans after Katrina.
Once again, I do wish Audible had a true table of contents. Since it doesn't, here it is (with thanks to Google Books): Introduction; 1. Affinity and Beyond; 2. Love is Blind; 3. Dangerous Convictions; 4 The Limits of Your Mind; 5. The Ostrich Instruction; 6. Just Following Orders; 7. The Cult of Cultures; 8. Bystander; 9. Out of Sight Out of Mind; 10. De-Moralizing Work; 11. Cassandra; 12. See Better. Chapter 11, which starts with the myth of Cassandra, who was gifted with knowing the truth and the future but cursed not to be believed, is a powerful discussion about encouraging those in an organization who know the truth to speak up.
Heffernan narrates the book herself, and it was hard to get used to her unusual accent. I checked her bio, and she was born in Texas, raised in the Netherlands, and attended college in England. No wonder I couldn't place it.
I definitely recommend this book for managers and executives who want to strengthen their teams.
[If you found this review helpful, please let me know by clicking the helpful button. And Audible, how about adding this one to the Business section also???]
Heffernan's book is a collection of interesting stories and research on willful blindness, but it suffers from two flaws. 1. It lacks coherence. While the book has a clear subject, it's like a brain dump on the subject. The author doesn't pull the information together in a way that forms a coherent narrative. 2. It's preachy to the point that it's annoying.
This is an important book that everyone should read, but, after I bought it, it took me several months before I finally got around to listen to it because the title, "Willful Blindness", (I thought) also hinted at my own problem of this nature operating in my own life. But the book is not so much about psychological analysis at personal levels but more about how the societal structure (e.g., division of labor) lead to major catastrophes due to willful blindness of those who were suppose to be in charge (yes, I know, I could be causing a catastrophe) . The author goes through many examples of this problem (e.g., Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 financial crisis, etc.).
Yes, yes, I get it - the author's analyses and observations are convincing, and we need to do something about this type of problem, but it is unlikely that corporate executives or federal officials would read this kind of book. So, we need structural changes (regulations) in society. It is not just those who are at the top - the whole town could be going along with it, in some cases. Thus, the purpose of the book is to raise awareness on this issue.
I am generally against authors narrating their own books, and this is another example that reinforces my opinion on this. The upside is that you get to hear her frustrations with the nature of the willful blindness in these examples. The downside, to me, was that, of many examples she went through, she was often quoting those whom she researched or interviewed, and sometime I got confused if "I" in the segments was the author or the person whom she was quoting. A professional narrator could have clarified the distinction by using different tones.
After the best introduction to a book I have heard in a long time...one that kept me enthralled and wanting to write down every word she said...I was stunned to find the book changed tone and became studied, boring and more like PhD dissertation than the exciting book she started out writing.
The author uses personal examples, psychological studies, and newsworthy events to show how people fail to see the (sometimes dangerous) reality around us.
This book was very well-paced and interesting to listen to. Though the work seems to have a very solid basis in scientific research, the author does a wonderful job of conveying the concepts in easy to understand terms and using examples to illustrate the concepts and help the listener relate to the situation being discussed.
This book is useful for understanding willful blindness in everyday personal and working relationships, as well as understanding the institutional flaws that lead to large scale disasters involving BP, Enron, and Wall Street.
Has become one of my top 100 books of all time. Well researched, written, and read. Read it. You won't be disappointed.
You might possibly be 'blind' if you don't love the insight of "The elephant in the room".
I enjoy reading books that explore understanding how the human mind works. It was enlightening to hear Hefferman's research and explanations for the apparent scales we often have covering our eyes and clamps shutting our mouths, even when our mind & hearts beg to be free.
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