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February 28 , 2011

Wilful Blindness

Why We Ignore the Obvious


In the 2006 case of the US Government vs Enron, the presiding judge instructed the jurors to take account of the concept of wilful blindness as they reached their verdict about whether the chief executives of the disgraced energy corporation were guilty. It was not enough for the defendants to say that they did not know what was going on; that they had not seen anything. If they failed to observe the corruption which was unfolding before their very eyes, not knowing was no defence. The guilty verdict sent shivers down the spine of the corporate world.
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In this book, distinguished business woman and writer, Margaret Heffernan, examines the phenomenon of wilful blindness. Drawing on a wide array of sources from psychological studies and social statistics to interviews with the relevant protagonists she examines what it is about human nature which makes us so prone to wilful blindness. Taught from infancy to obey authority, and absorbing the importance of selective vision as a key social skill, humans exacerbate their tendency to become institutionalised by joining organisations which are run by like-minded people. Wilful Blindness looks at how hard-work and the information overload of the modern workplace add to the problem. And examines why whistleblowers and Cassandras are so very rare.

Ranging freely through history and from business to science, government to the family, this engaging and anecdotal book will explain why wilful blindness is so dangerous in the globalised, interconnected world in which we live, before suggesting ways in which institutions and individuals can start to combat it. In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Margaret Heffernan's thought provoking book will force open our eyes.
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