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Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It [Hardcover]

by Max H. Bazerman, Ann E. Tenbrunsel
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 20, 2011 0691147507 978-0691147505 1

When confronted with an ethical dilemma, most of us like to think we would stand up for our principles. But we are not as ethical as we think we are. In Blind Spots, leading business ethicists Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel examine the ways we overestimate our ability to do what is right and how we act unethically without meaning to. From the collapse of Enron and corruption in the tobacco industry, to sales of the defective Ford Pinto, the downfall of Bernard Madoff, and the Challenger space shuttle disaster, the authors investigate the nature of ethical failures in the business world and beyond, and illustrate how we can become more ethical, bridging the gap between who we are and who we want to be.

Explaining why traditional approaches to ethics don't work, the book considers how blind spots like ethical fading--the removal of ethics from the decision--making process--have led to tragedies and scandals such as the Challenger space shuttle disaster, steroid use in Major League Baseball, the crash in the financial markets, and the energy crisis. The authors demonstrate how ethical standards shift, how we neglect to notice and act on the unethical behavior of others, and how compliance initiatives can actually promote unethical behavior. They argue that scandals will continue to emerge unless such approaches take into account the psychology of individuals faced with ethical dilemmas. Distinguishing our "should self" (the person who knows what is correct) from our "want self" (the person who ends up making decisions), the authors point out ethical sinkholes that create questionable actions.

Suggesting innovative individual and group tactics for improving human judgment, Blind Spots shows us how to secure a place for ethics in our workplaces, institutions, and daily lives.

Frequently Bought Together

Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It + Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right
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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2012 Silver Medal Book Award in Business Ethics, Axiom Business

"Well-written, stuffed with intriguing research, and more than a little unnerving, this book will make readers reconsider some of their most entrenched beliefs."--

"[Blind Spots] is full of studies in human behavior and those results can help us, and the people we manage, make better decisions. . . . [T]he book should be required reading for anyone entering the business world . . . or for those of us who still try to reconcile misdeeds that did not have to be."--Walter Pavlo,

"One explanation for what happened at News of the World can be found in a new book called Blind Spots. Its authors Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel look at how businesses, from Ford to Enron to subprime mortgage lenders, can end up mired in ethical disaster. But rather than discuss such choices as coolly calculated trade-offs between right and wrong, they look at how people actually make decisions--under pressure from shareholders, bosses and colleagues, up against tight deadlines and often worried about their careers, or even whether their contracts are going to be renewed."--Aditya Chakrabortty, Guardian

"This book is a step toward . . . bringing together a host of studies by the authors and others that probe how easy it is for us [to] act less ethically than we would like. The book also shows how organizations can take advantage of these findings in behavioural ethics to change their informal culture . . ."--Harvey Schachter, The Globe & Mail

"Bazerman and Tenbrunsel apply insights from the field of behavioral ethics to understand why individuals and organizations act unethically and what can be done to prevent such behavior. They draw on research from psychology and business to illustrate how factors outside our awareness influence decisions and behavior, and what we can do to prevent ethical lapses."--Taya R. Cohen, Pittsburgh Business Times

"Blind Spots is a bold argument against the decency of human beings, showing how we subvert our ethical principles time and time again. Noting a human tendency to justify our own actions to ourselves with little thought for their consequences, business professors Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel explain how employees can give rise to dysfunctional organizations for fear of rocking the boat. . . . The authors adopt a lively tone throughout and harness a broad mix of examples, from lab experiments to the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster and the collapse of Enron."--Gregor Hunter, The National

"In an era where we've watched political leaders tell blatant lies and seen the corporate world nearly sunk by an onslaught of questionable ethics, it's time to take a sober look at why people who think of themselves as moral can commit unethical and even unlawful acts--or approve the dishonest acts of others. . . . [T]his is examined in the recent book Blind Spots, by Harvard Business School professor Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel, professor of business ethics at the University of Notre Dame."--
Toronto Star

"The style [of Blind Spots] is incisive and reassuringly uningratiating."--Steven Poole, The Guardian

"Bazerman . . . and . . . Tenbrunsel . . . set out to show that if we are to make ethical decisions, we need to recognize such blind spots in ourselves as our failure to view our own immoral actions objectively and our tendency to act based on how we want to behave rather than on how we should."--Susan Schwartz, Montreal Gazette

"Blind Spots is a good book. It tells a story in a clear and compelling fashion, which is what a book is for. The story is that we often act unethically, not because we're faced with ethical questions and decide to pick the 'bad' option, but because we fail to see that there is an ethical issue at all."--
Neuroskeptic blog

"If you want to be an ethical person or organization and are sometimes left nonplussed by the unethical behavior that still ensues nonetheless, then this is the right book to help you understand and correctly ensure that ethical behavior happens when push comes to shove."--
Mouse Trap blog

"Are we as ethical as we think we are? An important new book by . . . Max Bazerman and . . . Ann Tenbrunsel says probably not. In Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel make a convincing case that a significant gap exists between how ethical we think we are and how ethical we actually are."--Scott Flegal, Nashua Telegraph

"In their well-written, easily accessible text, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel rely on well-known cases of ethical failure and prior research, often previously popularized psychological studies, to frame the emerging field of behavioral ethics. . . . [I]t serves as an excellent introduction to the discipline."--

"I enjoyed this book and think it is ideal for a team of managers to read together. Knowing how common it is for individuals to miss seeing a conflict or bias, colleagues could commit to challenging each other with candor and care."--Jill Geisler, Poynter

"I will surely consider using the text in the classroom in the future. . . . [P]articularly if one is trying to establish organizational policy that encourages ethical behavior--there is a good deal here that will be of interest."--J. Jeremy Wisnewski, Philosophy in Review

From the Inside Flap

"This fascinating book holds up a desperately needed mirror that objectively reveals a reflection we might not want to see. Yet through experienced guidance and genuine input, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel offer solutions that can powerfully change the way we do business."--Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Leader in Me

"When we think of unethical behavior, the images that often come to mind are those of robbers, thieves, the executives at Enron, or Bernie Madoff. Blind Spots is not just about these criminals, but about a much larger problem-the dishonest actions that we all take while still thinking of ourselves as wonderfully moral people. In this important book, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel show us how we fail to see our own immoral actions in an objective light, and the trouble that this biased view gets us into."--Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational

"Peppered with compelling examples, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel's lively book deserves the broadest possible audience. Showing that the human mind sometimes leads us to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our own ethical standards, Blind Spots introduces behavioral ethics and reveals how this emerging field has important implications for wise decision making in our personal and professional lives. This is a must-read for those responsible for shaping regulatory policies in organizations and government."--Robert H. Mnookin, Harvard University

"Bazerman and Tenbrunsel weave together solid scientific evidence, stories from the press, and reports from their own experiences to convincingly demonstrate that the actions of people and organizations often do not live up to their stated ethical standards. Addressing, in insightful ways, how this gap might be closed, this important book is a must-read for business leaders, government officials, and students of behavioral ethics."--Arthur P. Brief, University of Utah

"This terrific book summarizes the rapid advances made in the field of behavioral ethics and brings them to the attention of the thoughtful practitioner. With good examples and lucid writing, this book makes a reliable reference for people interested in building ethical organizations and institutions."--Madan Pillutla, London Business School

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (March 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691147507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691147505
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #209,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Max H. Bazerman
Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration

In addition to being the Straus Professor at the Harvard Business School, Max is formally affiliated with the Kennedy School of Government, the Psychology Department, and the Program on Negotiation.

Max's research focuses on decision making in negotiation, and improving decision making in organizations, nations, and society. He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of eighteen books (including Negotiation Genius [with Deepak Malhotra], Bantam Books, September 2007) and over 200 research articles and chapters. He is a member of the editorial boards of the American Behavioral Scientist, Journal of Management and Governance, Mind and Society, Negotiations and Conflict Management Research, and The Journal of Behavioral Finance. Also, he is a member of the international advisory board of the Negotiation Journal.

From 2002-2008, Max was consistently named one of the top 40 authors, speakers, and teachers of management by Executive Excellence. He was 'Teacher of the Year' by the Executive Masters Program of the Kellogg School. In 2003, Max received the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award from Harvard University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In 2006, Max received an honorary doctorate from the University of London (London Business School), the Kulp-Wright Book Award from the American Risk and Insurance Association for Predictable Surprises (with Michael Watkins), and the Life Achievement Award from the Aspen Institute's Business and Society Program. In 2008, Max was named as Ethisphere's 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics, was named one of Daily Kos' Heroes from the Bush Era for going public about how the Bush Administration corrupted the RICO Tobacco trial, received the International Institute of Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR) Outstanding Book Award, and received the Distinguished Educator Award from the Academy of Management.
His former doctoral students have accepted positions at leading business schools throughout the United States, including the Kellogg School at Northwestern, the Fuqua School at Duke, the Johnson School at Cornell, Carnegie-Mellon University, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Notre Dame, Columbia, and the Harvard Business School.

His professional activities include projects with Abbott, Aetna, Alcar, Alcoa, Allstate, Ameritech, Amgen, Apax Partners, Asian Development Bank, AstraZeneca, AT&T, Aventis, BASF, Bayer, Becton Dickenson, Biogen, Boston Scientific, BP, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Business Week, Celtic Insurance, Chevron, Chicago Tribune, City of Chicago, Deloitte and Touche, Dial, Ernst and Young, First Chicago, Gemini Consulting, General Motors, Harris Bank, Home Depot, Hyatt Hotels, IBM, John Hancock, Johnson & Johnson, Kohler, KPMG, Lucent, The May Company, McKinsey, Medtronics, Merrill Lynch, Monitor, Motorola, National Association of Broadcasters, Nordstjernen, Pfizer, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, R. P. Scherer, Sara Lee, Siemens, Sprint, Sulzermedica, Synergen, The Nature Conservancy, Unicredito, Union Bank of Switzerland, Wilson Sporting Goods, Xerox, Young Presidents Organization, World Bank and Zurich Insurance.

Max's consulting, teaching, and lecturing includes work in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, and the UK.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Behavioral Ethics 101 April 20, 2011
It seems that every month an ethics scandal has overtaken the headlines. But politicians and CEOs are no worse than anyone else. It turns out that people are quite good a recognizing right from wrong in the abstract, but it the moment, we overvalue ourselves, overlook the obvious, and make bad decisions. This book, written by two leaders in their field, is an excellent introduction to the human psychology behind poor ethical choices, why they are so pervasive, and how we can place ourselves in a position to succeed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking June 7, 2012
This book is an easy and fairly short read, with quite deep ideas. It has almost nothing to do with the subject of 'Ethics' in its traditional meaning - what is the right thing to do? Instead, it concerns decision making, why we fail to do the right thing even though we want to.

If you have done reading already in cognitive biases (psychology of decision making) or behavioural economics, there will be no new knowledge here. However, the application is novel and interesting, because the book describes how these same biases undermine our own belief systems (whatever they may be) instead of the more common description of how the biases undermine rationality.

It is clearly targeted at managers - referring to business decisions throughout - with a minor nod also to policy decisions. However, the book should have broader appeal, since it is also relevant to personal decision making. Note that the examples would be familiar to US residents, but less familiar to the rest of us.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The coverage of behavioral ethics - mainly concerned with the chasm that can sometimes form between ethical convictions and action, both in organizations and individuals - in this book is nothing short of excellent, and the material is surprisingly well referenced. The book also uses factual descriptions to illustrate the material throughout, providing an excellent frame of reference for the reader - although the buyer of such a book has probably already formed his own frame of reference prior to taking interest in the book!

The only reason I refrain from a 5 star rating is that the author couldn't help mix in some unsubstantiated conclusions along. Once every few pages, farfetched analogies are stretched in order to substantiate some claims that are presented without rigorous discussion, possibly reflecting a personal orientation of the author (which deriving from those bias, I would guess has an utilitarian view of ethics, and a left-oriented political ideology). Some conclusions are also reached after large logical jumps that are not necessarily valid.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Worthwile Read August 21, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Bazerman and Tenbrunsel describe why people with good intentions may fail to act in accordance with their own ethical standards. Relying on studies from the field of behavioral ethics, psychology, and other social sciences they demonstrate presence of "blind spots," or ethical vulnerabilities which are often outside of their own conscious awareness.

"Without an awareness of blind sports, traditional approaches to ethics won't be particular useful in improving behavior" (p. 37). They note that approaches such as developing ethics codes, or giving mandatory lectures on ethics are often ineffective. Fortunately, they offer specific strategies to help the readers avoid "ethical sinkholes." They ask the readers to consider, for example, whether a problem is defined as an ethical issue or a non-ethical issue (such as a business decision or an engineering decision); whether prejudices that are outside of their conscious awareness may motivate their behaviors; whether informal or unwritten forces within the organization encourage employees to ignore or minimize the ethical implications of a decision; or whether isolation, uncertainty or time pressures may increase the likelihood of an unethical decision.

Bazerman and Tenbrunsel look at ethics from the standpoint of individual, institutional, and societal decision making. Their book is clearly written with good examples and research results that are clearly explained and it has applications for business owners, employees, professionals, and everyday individuals.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful and brief but not an engaging read stylistically September 12, 2011
The book's subtitle is very accurate on its subject: why we fail to do what's right and what to do about it. The authors outline their case and walk through different drivers of ethical lapses (ethical bounding, ethical fading, etc.) as they are manifested in different levels of organization: self, person-to-person, groups and society as a whole. It's a very helpful framework for starting to think about the gaps that exist between what we should do and what we end up doing. I wish it were better edited to sharpen up terminology, reduce redundancy and give the book a bit more life (many of the illustrating stories would benefit from a bit of Gladwell-like attention to narrative just to help with pace), but the core of the book is the data and accompanying framework -- and those are both solid and useful. I would highly recommend any managers trying to build more ethically-consistent organizations read this early on in their efforts.
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4.0 out of 5 stars First rate Analysis April 11, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Offers a reasonable explanation for ethical failings among all of us who lay claim to values and behaviours which promote ethical decisions and goes on to suggest how the gap can be closed. A valuable addition to the literature.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable but sobering study
Bazerman and Tenbrunsel provide a valuable study - including their own research - of how and why 'ethics' is clearly a problematic concept in many institutional settings. Read more
Published 5 months ago by John O. Meara
4.0 out of 5 stars Human fallibility
This is a short but enlightening book. It provides ample objective evidence to prove that we are oftentimes unable to live up to our very own ethical standards. Read more
Published 7 months ago by W. Cheung
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read.
I find this book very interesting and it will really open your eyes to the places you may not realize you are making errors in judgment. Good Stuff!
Published 7 months ago by Jacob Terrell
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect
Thank you so much for this text. It met expectations and has proved to be a wonderful additional to my collection.
Published 8 months ago by Emily Powell
3.0 out of 5 stars Blind Spots
I chose this rating because I really haven't gone through it thoroughly to make a good decision. It would probably be higher if I gave it more time.
Published 16 months ago by Larry G.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Book
I saw this book on HBS so I decided to buy it. In the first few pages you can realize that deep research about Business Ethics. I think every manager should read it
Published 16 months ago by SEGUNDO ZURITA NIETO
5.0 out of 5 stars Every leader of an organization, institution, or business needs to...
Blind Spots is a fascinating look at the science behind why we fail to do what is right.Authors Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel have stellar pedigrees in the world of business,... Read more
Published 17 months ago by cksyme
5.0 out of 5 stars More practical approach to studying ethics
The reviewer who said that this is stylistically difficult to read must not be reading much ethics or philosophy because this is an extremely engaging book compared to most in its... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Jonathan Andreas
4.0 out of 5 stars Expand your ethical understanding
Bazerman and Tenbrunsel give us many unexpected and useful insights into why we - despite both knowledge and a desire to do the right thing - sometimes end up chosing the wrong... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Jørgen Hanson
5.0 out of 5 stars important book
Blindspots is well written, brisk, and deals with a critical topic: what brings out the best and worst in human beings. Read more
Published 24 months ago by thumbsupforconscience
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