Willful Blindness: Why We Fall for Stupid S&%#
By Walter Pavlo - Feb 24th 2011
I'm not a person who reviews many books but a good friend of mine, Margaret Heffernan wrote a book 'Willfull Blindness ' Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril'. Margaret is a successful entrepreneur, author and contributor to The Huffington Post. This book is outstanding and should be read by anyone in risk and compliance. Further, I think a copy should be sent to all of those feeder funds in the Madoff case.
Many of us wonder why we make some of the worst decisions in business and in life. Often, we do not address our faults in detail because of the pain involved and the usual fact, "we should have known better". I'm speaking from experience here.
When I read Margaret's book, I was hooked from the first page. If you're a reader of Malcolm Gladwell you will enjoy the flow and insight of this business book. Without providing excuses for those who have ethical or illegal breaches, Heffernan provides empirical and scientific data/theories for how one might stray away from normal behavior. Following is a brief excerpt that captured my attention:
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 psychologist Daniel Gilbert. "Not only does doubt seem to be the last to emerge, but it also seems to be the first to disappear." Because it takes less brain power to believe than to doubt, we are, when tired or distracted, gullible. Because we are all biased, and biases are quick and effortless, exhaustion makes us favor the information we know we are comfortable with. We're too tired to do the heavier lifting of examining new or contradictory information, so we fall back on our biases, the opinions and the people we already trust.
Could the cure for problems we have in corporate America come down to a more rested and aware workforce? Do the 100 hour work-weeks affect our ability to make good judgments?
I truly believe that more regulation will not cure all that ails unethical business behavior (reference the impact of Sarbanes-Oxley on curbing white-collar crime). However, if we look a little closer at weaknesses we all have, we may get a little closer to understanding behavior that puts otherwise good people at risk of doing something stupid.