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52 Reviews
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really good...with one flaw
I liked the central thesis of this book. Seeing examples of areas where individuals had blatantly disregarded the truth that was right in front of them cause be to become more self-aware, which says a lot to me about the quality of a book.

I am constantly fascinated by psychological experiments which demonstrate just how irrational our behavior can be. The...
Published on May 5, 2011 by Niel

versus
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Blindness Premise on Point, but Lacks Depth
The premise that we all have intentional (and unintentional) `willful blindness' to things we do not want to hear or see is well presented. Blindness is all around us from

1) Social Proofs - (reference to Serpico or the Genovese murder)
2) Authority Misinfluence - (think of `well the boss said do it')
3) Stress Influence - (reduced mental capacity...
Published 17 months ago by James East


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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really good...with one flaw, May 5, 2011
By 
Niel (CEDAR HILLS, UT, United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I liked the central thesis of this book. Seeing examples of areas where individuals had blatantly disregarded the truth that was right in front of them cause be to become more self-aware, which says a lot to me about the quality of a book.

I am constantly fascinated by psychological experiments which demonstrate just how irrational our behavior can be. The author cites many of these, and it is easy to see myself in several of the situations. I give high marks for the self-analysis this book brought out for me.

My only complaint is her lack of acknowledgement that hindsight really is 20/20. Of course after the fact it's easy to find some facts which pointed to the disaster, but does the author really think that we should or could always see what is going to happen in advance? Yes, occasionally people predict what will happen before it does. The author places these individuals as heroes and claims we should listen to them more carefully. But what about the millions of prognostications which are wrong? Are we supposed to give every individual with a prediction a voice?

That point aside, I do recommend the book. It's though provoking in a way that most current writing is not.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How and why all of us should develop "fierce determination to see" whatever we need to understand, December 10, 2011
Margaret Heffernan's background in business is wide as well as deep. In this, her latest book, she rigorously and eloquently examines a common problem: denying truths that are "too painful, too frightening to confront." Many people revert to denial because they are convinced that it is the only way to remain hopeful. "The problem arises when we use the same mechanism to deny uncomfortable truths that cry out for acknowledgement, debate, action, and change." This is among the phenomena that Dante had in mind when reserving the last -- and worst -- ring in hell for those who, in a moral crisis, preserve their neutrality.

Many of those whom Heffernan discusses in this book have what she characterizes as "a fierce determination to see." Their courage in daring to do so "reveals a central truth about willful blindness: We may think that being blind makes us safer, when in fact it leaves us crippled, vulnerable, and powerless. But when confront facts and fears, we achieve real power and unleash our capacity for change."

As I worked my way through the narrative, I was reminded of Sophocles' Oedipus who gains understanding (i.e. "sees" what is true and what is not) only after gouging out his eyes with broaches ripped from the gown of his dead wife. Similarly, only after Shakespeare's Lear loses his mind does he begin to "see" what he failed to understand previously. Heffernan asserts, and I wholly agree, that almost anyone can learned to "see better, not just because our brain changes but because we do. As all wisdom does, seeing starts with simple questions: What could I know, should I know, that I don't know? Just what am I missing here?"

My own experience suggests that people tend to see what they expect to see and fail to see what they do not expect to see. The brief film of Daniel Simons' experiment involving Harvard students in a basketball passing drill (discussed by Heffernan on Pages 74-76) is well worth checking out at Daniels' home page. In her book, Heffernan examines several phenomena that help to explain both willful and involuntary "blindness" as well as their causes; also, she suggests lessons to be learned that can help us to develop a "fierce determination to see" whatever we need to understand. She also provides some especially valuable information about the importance of aerobic exercise and cites an article also well worth checking out, "Be Smart, Exercise Your Heart: Exercise Effects on Brain and Cognition," co-authored by C.H. Hillman, K.I, Erickson et al.

Business executives who share my high regard for this brilliant book are urged to check out Charles Jacobs' Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Research, Edward Hallowell's Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People, and Carol Dweck's Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Blindness Premise on Point, but Lacks Depth, October 6, 2013
By 
This review is from: Willful Blindness (Kindle Edition)
The premise that we all have intentional (and unintentional) `willful blindness' to things we do not want to hear or see is well presented. Blindness is all around us from

1) Social Proofs - (reference to Serpico or the Genovese murder)
2) Authority Misinfluence - (think of `well the boss said do it')
3) Stress Influence - (reduced mental capacity due to sleep deprivation and due dates)
4) Contrast Misreaction - (cognition is mislead from tiny changes)

In some business cultures you also get the adage of `don't bring me problems, bring a solution' is another intentional/unintentional blindness by the manager or boss that many have surely run across. In all, a good effort and book with a positive recommendation while overlooking the political comments by the author.

Nevertheless, I had to rate this book at only 3 stars. The use of the same quotes and examples several times in the book lacks a needed depth. In addition, this somewhat lower grade is also due to the author's own possible blindness. The author delves into political rhetoric in the second half of the book (somewhat annoying) but seems blind to the fact that whenever one enters into a political discussion the one entering has a chance of being wrong. For the author to point to the `correct' answer in a few of these discussions is possibly showing a `blindness' of her own. Oh well, we all have our own blind spots and to help with our own blindness a few other recommendations are below:

On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits [Hardcover] by Wray Herbert
Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition by Michael J. Mauboussin
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials)by Robert B. Cialdini
How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life by Thomas Gilovich
The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making by Scott Plous
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Paradox of Human Nature, July 10, 2013
By 
I purchased the audio version of the book and enjoyed listening to Margaret Heffernan read her book. Although the book's purpose is to heighten our awareness of our own shortcomings, her tone is neither preachy nor shill. She makes her points powerfully, with calm authority. I enjoyed her British accent, and it was easy to imagine her sitting across a table from me, discussing the issues in the book.

Prior to listening to "Willful Blindness," I'd read about a dozen books about failed decision making, such as "Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). The constant theme among them all is that we make ourselves powerless by pretending we don't know. Whether we are blind to our own shortcomings or blind to others' deceptions, we suffer in the end from this lack of knowing. Because the theme has been explored by so many others, I wondered if Heffernan would have anything original to say.

I found the book to be filled with tremendous insight into the paradox of the human condition. For example, Heffernan tells a story about her own life and her decision to marry a man with a serious heart problem that would, inevitably, lead to his death before the age of 40. Why would she blind herself to the fact of his medical condition and marry him, even after his other girlfriends had left him for healthier mates? It was love, she says. Our love for each other and our blindness to the faults of each other is part of the human condition. It is part of who we are. We are, in general, overly optimistic, wear rose colored glasses, trust others more often than we should, and typically fail to put all the facts together into a whole until confronted with a terrible, irreparable truth.

When does this blindness become dangerous, she asks? When there is harm, she says, especially when damage is done to the innocent, like children. So it is vitally important to learn how to trust our instincts, to have difficult conversations, and to take back any form of power that we might have given away. None of this is easy, she points out.

Other books on the topic make change seem so lineal: just realize how flawed your decision-making can be, and follow the instructions on how to remove one's blind spots. The great value of "Willful Blindness" is first pointing out through the use of stories how very human it is to be flawed, and then to heighten awareness of the value of recognizing difficult truths. Heffernan calls us to be better versions of ourselves, and because of her book, I think that we can.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An engaging and detailed look at a well known problem with the human brain, November 26, 2011
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Every thinking person knows that humans tend to "put their heads in the sand" when they don't like the facts in front of them, even if they have a hard time admitting this fault in themselves. The book's author, Margaret Heffernan, takes this well known phenomenon and delves deep, and from many angles, to show us what is going on in the human psyche when this happens, which apparently is all the time, and from this helps not us not only to see how others fall into this trap, but more importantly, what is going on in our own brains when we do the same thing.

The major goal of this book is not just to explain why this aspect of human behavior happens, but to show why turning our eyes away from uncomfortable facts is such a bad thing for everyone involved. She does this by employing hindsight to see the huge mess that was made in many large scale examples. But she does not forget to mention how this behavior also helps us as social animals to work together. The nuance of this conundrum is not lost on her.

Her background is in the business world, so she uses many examples from this sphere, along side applicable studies from psychology and neuroscience to demonstrate various aspects if willful blindness. She does go into other areas of human society, but business is what she seems to understand best, so it is not a problem that she spends a lot of time there. I'm guessing that because of this focus, this book will become popular among people in business and management, as it should.

My only disappointment is not with the author or the material, but with annoying fact that this aspect of the human brain seems to be a permanent defect that will exhibit itself in every future generation. Our only defense is to try to mitigate its effects by education and awareness. It will be an ongoing battle, but as with all such books on human behavior, it helps us understand ourselves better, and the more we understand how our own brain can steer us in wrong directions the more we can avoid the traps we unknowingly set for ourselves.

So that is about the content, but I also enjoyed Ms. Heffernan's writing. The book flowed well and kept me very engaged. With many books of this ilk, I find myself reading several chapters, then putting the book down for a few weeks before getting around to finishing it. With this book I found myself being drawn back to it every evening until I finished. It is a good read.

Bottom Line: The human brain is a tricky thing to operate. We need all the help we can get. "Willful Blindness" is a book that gives such us help. I hope this book finds a wide audience.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting & some valuable insights on behaviour, January 23, 2012
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Interesting to read, easy to read, and gives informative discussion on human behaviour, especially in groups. Lots of research based evidence with some famous examples showing why people behave badly in groups; or simply ignore what's happening around them, even to their peril.

Gave me personally, good insights into why, when as an advertising (and later marketing) person, clients could be shown all evidence to help chose the best business choice, and yet would choose to ignore it at, to the detriment of the business. And even later when they saw this, they would often make choices again against what would seem to be logical and obvious. More than simply politics, there were other things going on. (A relief to realise it wasn't just bad presenting on my behalf!)

If you are in marketing or any subset of (PR, sales, advertising etc), or interested in human behaviour, then you will find this book worth while. It was perhaps 1 chapter too long - as nothing new seemed to be offered in the last one and I felt as though the publisher had said to the author, 'bit short. Could you do another chapter?' Interesting and worth purchasing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Timely and well written but not a lot of action steps to improve the business environment, August 23, 2014
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This review is from: Willful Blindness (Kindle Edition)
After being assigned this book to read for my MBA class I thought there would be a lot of actionable steps to unearth and solve the ethical issues in today's business environment. Well, this book reports and uses many recent examples to demonstrate the lack of ethics but the book doesn't solve anything. I know, it's not easy to make people more ethical but just writing about the subject and specific examples isn't too useful either. The author does go into some interesting examples with "mob mentality" but there simply wasn't a lot of actionable advice. In summary, not really sure it's worth the time/effort unless you want only examples of unethical business.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important, Compelling, I Loved It!, March 11, 2011
By 
Book Fanatic (Houston, TX, United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This is one of the more compelling reads I've encountered lately (and I read a lot of books); I simply devoured it! This is an important book and deserves to be very widely read. Based upon its selling rank on Amazon I can see that is not likely to happen and that is a shame.

The author Margaret Heffernan has achieved something quite remarkable. She has written a very content dense wide ranging book that is surprisingly easy to read. It is certainly an enjoyable read and yet it makes you think and think and then think some more.

She put a lot of material in the book that is backed up by research, but instead of being dry and formulaic she manages to weave it all into compelling stories of real people. Somehow she spends just enough time on the individual stories to allow you to really understand and resonate with them, but they are still short enough to allow a number of different examples to be included. The part of the book that tells the story of Libby Montana was is incredible. She looks at a number of current events like the banking crisis, Abu Ghraib, Enron, BP, etc. as well as a few historical examples. But the key is she finds the rare dissenting souls in these events and tells their individual stories.

There is so much good in this book, it is almost a disservice to try and describe it, and yet I don't agree with everything in it; that's the point after all. If you are at all interested in human behavior and how we mess it all up, you simply cannot go wrong with this book.

Two huge thumbs way up!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Willful Blindness, July 18, 2012
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This is a powerful book!

Former producer for BBC Radio and TV, former CEO of several multimedia companies, and current writer Margaret Heffernan gives a vivid portrayal of willful blindness.

Willful blindness, she proposes, "is part of the human condition" (page 222). It contributes to personal tragedies, corporate collapses, and crimes against humanity. She brings all of these alive with dramatic vignettes including the response of officials during and after Hurricane Katrina, the explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, and others. She supports her proposition with studies by psychologists and neuroscientists and interviews of people who have witnessed and participated in willful blindness such as Cynthia Thomas who started the Under the Hood Cafe to offer soldiers at Fort Hood military base a place to hang out, Sherron Watkins who wrote to Enron chairman Ken Lay detailing accounting problems she could not resolve, Gillian Tett who predicted the problems at Northern Rock, and others. Her vignettes and the studies supporting them are captivating and persuasive.

She does not leave us in that morass, however. After proposing that we all experience willful blindness, she contends that "it need not define who we are" (page 222). She then offers practical steps for what we can do to be attuned to it and to be on guard against it.

This book is valuable as we live into the twenty-first century where we must face what we do not want to see about the perils of our planet. It gives us positive steps to avoid willful blindness about our personal contributions to these perils.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book Changed My Life, June 15, 2011
Willful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan changed my life. Reading this book gave me a fresh perspective on the importance of sleep (I used to think it was overrated) and how much of a role it plays in being able to recognize potential problems and patterns that are quite clear when you are well rested and are looking for them.
I used to pride myself in being able to multi-task, but I learned from Margaret that the brain simply cannot multi-task and doing so gets in the way of seeing and hearing what is right smack in front of us.
Here's my favorite quote from the book, "We may think being blind makes us safer, when in fact it leaves us crippled, vulnerable, and powerless. But when we confront facts and fears, we achieve real power and unleash our capacity for change."
I am now maniacal about getting enough sleep. As far as multi-tasking, that continues to be a work in progress (I'm almost there) but I'm delighted to report that because of Margaret's book, I have taken a huge step back and re-evaluated my behavior for not only my benefit, but for the benefit of all those with whom I interact.
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Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril
Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan (Paperback - July 3, 2012)
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