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Willful Blindness Review
By Wayne Hurlbert - June 19, 2011

"Whether individual or collective, willful blindness doesn't have a single driver, but many. it is a human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters large and small. We can't notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won't let us.That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through or leave out is crucial", writes entrepreneur, CEO, writer and keynote speaker Margaret Heffernan in her insightful and thought provoking book Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. The author describes the concept of willful blindness, or looking the other way, through a combination of the latest brain research and business, social, cultural, and personal anecdotes, providing a fascinating window on this very human way of seeing and behaving in a complex world.

Margaret Hefferan points out that the term willful blindness began as a nineteenth century legal term. The author recognizes that the legal term describes what happened regarding a deliberate overlooking of uncomfortable facts. Margaret Heffernan goes much farther in her analysis of the act of looking the other way, and examines why people choose to be willfully blind rather than facing the truth. For the author, willful blindness is far more integral to people's lives than business or law. The phenomenon occurs in people's personal lives as well. Whether the result is an ignoring of business ethics, political corruption, or a failing relationship, Margaret Heffernan shows how the psychological drivers of willful ignorance are many and varied; and affect people as both individuals or as parts of groups or organizations.

Margaret Heffernan (photo left) understands that people filter out bad or unsettling news, and let through news that makes them feel good about themselves or their group. Just as love is blind, and money can create blindness, people are also susceptible to pressure to conform and prefer to avoid confrontation or conflict. The author also provides examples of how willful blindness is not always harmful to the individuals or groups of people. The overlooking of events or personal flaws aids social interaction and boosts community accord. Beneficial willful blindness may also help people survive human made or natural disasters or social upheaval. While willful blindness can be seductive, and even possess great personal utility, the use of the tactic can place people in great personal, legal, or career danger. The good news, according to Margaret Heffernan, is that learning to overcome the urge to employ willful blindness in uncomfortable situations empowers people and opens them to achieving real change in their personal or professional lives.

For me, the power of the book is how Margaret Heffernan combines the latest brain studies and psychological research, with real world evidence and anecdotes to explain why people turn to willful blindness as a defense mechanism. The author presents an intriguing blend of how people fall into willful blindness, with analysis of why the phenomenon is so prevalent in human interaction. While people may see problems, illegalities, a lack of ethics, individual misconduct, or even war crimes, the urge to look the other way is powerful. The mechanism is used to create a sense of safety, reduce personal conflict, maintain status, or make financial gain. Those strong inducements are difficult to resist, especially in the face of peer pressure, organizational demands, or the feelings of loved ones.

Margaret Heffernan offers the alternative of avoiding the willful blindness trap. Not surrendering to willful blindness empowers people, prevents disasters, and helps maintain long term peace of mind. While the forces of society, organizations, and individuals may encourage or even coerce others into turning a blind eye, the loss of personal integrity is not worth the false gain. The author recommends overcoming our personal or professional biases, supporting open discussion of the real issues, ending group think, and standing up for what is right and ethical. Willful blindness need not be part of our lives. Instead, as the author writes, we can be stronger and more empowered through understanding willful blindness and resisting its siren allure. Individuals, organizations, and all of society would benefit as a result.

I highly recommend the groundbreaking and empowering book Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan, to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of why so many people turn a blind eye to illegal, immoral, and unethical activity in their personal and career lives. This book shines a spotlight on the reasons why people resort to willful blindness, how to overcome its seductive spell, and institute positive change for the good of the organization and all of society.

Read the important and engaging book Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan, and discover why looking the other way is neither desirable or necessary.This book will change your perception of wrong doing, and help you to become an agent for real change in your life, and in the lives of other people.