x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Wilful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan

Common-sense observations that do anything but avoid the obvious

Wilful Blindness: How We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril is looped around the premise that humans, all of them, tend to ignore information that could unsettle, or that runs counter to their beliefs and expectations. Heffernan weaves skilfully through dozens of well-researched anecdotes illuminating this phenomenon, ranging from the excruciatingly public failures of Enron and BP to wonkish academic experiments. Yet the whole exercise comes across as an exploration of the obvious.

We collaborate with Nazis (and ignore their atrocities) because we want to believe we're helping our country; we look past safety to protect the balance sheet; we tiptoe into unethical behaviour while chasing profits. In one notable but less serious case, scientists found that people seem unable to see a gorilla in a room if they receive stern instructions to focus on something else.

Heffernan is a good writer and brings her own experience as a chief executive (at InfoMation, ZineZone and iCAST) into the narrative as she guides the reader through scenario after scenario in which painful truths are ignored in favour of a more comfortable semi-reality. But in the end, the title promises shock and scandal; the pages deliver only common sense.