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Margaret Hefferman makes visible a human failing in “Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril.” In this book she approaches answers to why we willfully ignore what we need to acknowledge the most. The subject is important, according to the author, because we fail to see dangers right before our eyes. From marrying the wrong person, to the Enron fiasco, to the housing bubble, Hefferman alerts the reader to how the persons involved had the requisite information before them all the time and how the situations may have been avoided. Of course, hindsight is better than foresight, but her observations and presentation of research is informative. Hefferman is strongest when applying research to specific situations. She is weakest when she digresses into preaching about current events. She is most informative when she is explaining why organizations and individuals have willful blindness and lacking when she is on a soap box. All of it is valuable, but some of the book is more helpful than others. Her analysis of organizational structure and how it influences the decisions of large organizations is worth the price of the book. She details, for example, the problems of BP in Texas as well as the Gulf spill and explains why top management was blind to what was taking place. Willful blindness afflicts us all. Now, Hefferman has shown light on this timely subject. She reads her own text and does it well.
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Margaret Heffernan's "Willful Blindness: Why we Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril" (2011) is in Audible's Nonfiction:Science & Technology:Social Science, along with Malcolm Gladwell's books, including "Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking" (2005) and "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference" (2007). Jefferson's "Willful Blindness" is definitely on par with Gladwell's work, but without the publicity Gladwell has, I'm worried that not enough people will find out just how great this book is for people who want to understand what individual and organizational psychological problems can cause monumental failures.
Heffernan begins with a dramatic description of a tragic British Petroleum disaster - but not the 2010 Deep Water Horizon blow out that killed 11 workers and badly harmed a great deal of the coast of the United Stated. She describes the 2005 Texas City Refinery explosion that killed 15 workers and wreaked havoc on a vital part of the economy. Some of the factors that made the workers blind to the problem that caused the explosion were lack of sleep caused by long shifts with not enough time off; not enough workers; and poor design of equipment. Management at the local level didn't have the power to change the situation, and executives determined to cut costs refused to hear them. What's surprising to Heffernan is that when BP's Deep Water Horizon blew, people were astounded. The management and the corporate culture hadn't changed. Why wouldn't it happen again?
Heffernan's book is full of similar case studies, some well known - like the federal government's disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina. Some are not well known - like the installation of pumps that will not work in New Orleans after Katrina.
Once again, I do wish Audible had a true table of contents. Since it doesn't, here it is (with thanks to Google Books): Introduction; 1. Affinity and Beyond; 2. Love is Blind; 3. Dangerous Convictions; 4 The Limits of Your Mind; 5. The Ostrich Instruction; 6. Just Following Orders; 7. The Cult of Cultures; 8. Bystander; 9. Out of Sight Out of Mind; 10. De-Moralizing Work; 11. Cassandra; 12. See Better. Chapter 11, which starts with the myth of Cassandra, who was gifted with knowing the truth and the future but cursed not to be believed, is a powerful discussion about encouraging those in an organization who know the truth to speak up.
Heffernan narrates the book herself, and it was hard to get used to her unusual accent. I checked her bio, and she was born in Texas, raised in the Netherlands, and attended college in England. No wonder I couldn't place it.
I definitely recommend this book for managers and executives who want to strengthen their teams.
[If you found this review helpful, please let me know by clicking the helpful button. And Audible, how about adding this one to the Business section also???]
25 of 32 people found this review helpful