The Bath Perspective
Wilful Blindness Why we ignore the obvious at our peril
" we think blindness will make us safe even as it puts us in danger "
Margaret Heffernan is one of the School of Management's Entrepreneurs in Residence and a member of its Advisory Board. Margaret is a regular visitor to the School, spending time with our MBA and undergraduate students and helping to run masterclasses and guest speaker events. In a long and distinguished business career, Margaret has been an award-winning chief executive, television producer and an author. In her new book "Wilful Blindness" she explores how we are often guilty of ignoring inescapable truths both in our business and in our personal lives. In this latest work, 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 wilfully blind. 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? The book takes the Enron scandal in 2006 as its starting point and draws on a wide array of sources, from psychological studies to personal interviews. Packed with ideas and featuring both heroes and villains, Margaret argues that at its best wilful blindness can help people maintain an optimistic outlook, but at its worst it can have a catastrophic effect on their lives and those connected to them. As the book progresses, Margaret explores how wilful blindness develops and then goes on to outline some of the mechanisms, structures and strategies that institutions and individuals can use to combat it.
Examining examples of wilful blindness in the Catholic Church, the SEC, Nazi Germany, Bernard Madoff's investors, BP's safety record, the military in Afghanistan, and the dog-eat-dog world of subprime mortgage lenders, the 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. Margaret poses a number of interesting questions and draws on examples from recent events to illustrate both a distinction between collective and individual blindness and uses. The notion of clustering communities is discussed at length alongside other insights such as the dangerous unforeseen consequences of big ideas. Overall, Wilful Blindness is an optimistic book and Margaret seeks to highlight that despite our many failings borne out of tiredness, greed, and insecurity, it is possible to break through. "The world is full of Cassandras, individuals whose fate it is to see what others can't see, who are not blind but feel compelled to shout their awkward, provocative truths." Whistleblowers are invariably driven and obsessive truth-seekers, but they can come from all walks of life.