Margaret Heffernan is the author of “Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril.” Previously, she served as the CEO of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and iCAST Corporation.
In this talk, learn why its important for leaders and organizations to cultivate a culture where people can dare to disagree based on her extensive research on willful blindness.
Why did Excite believe that page rank did not matter? In the early days of Microsoft, why did they ignore the Internet? Why did it take so long for Google to realize that social networking matters? These examples taken together show that companies, even with really smart people, are still susceptible to willful blindness.
Human beings are hard wired to be obedient and conformist, and we know from bystander theory that the more people who see something going wrong, the less likely someone is to intervene. In fact, over 85-percent of people surveyed at companies claim they are either afraid to speak up or they don’t because they think it’s futile. This recasts the job of the leader to create conditions in which the smart people we hire are willing and able to speak up and challenge us.
What are some of the antidotes to willful blindness?
- Diversity: Bias has a biological basis. Our brains prefer information and people that are familiar. We are confident in people who are like us; they confirm us and our beliefs, but what we really need is people who are different than us with different thinking styles and backgrounds.
- Humility: We need to create conditions where speaking up is seen as vital, important and respected.
- Curiosity: In execution mode, we develop tunnel vision, especially if we are surrounding by people who think like us. What we need instead is curiosity – people whose minds wander and whose brains are supple.
- Hard questions: We must create conditions where it’s okay to ask hard questions. If I am wrong, what should I expect to see?
Willful blindness is really a human condition; it helps us do things in the face of the unknown, but we must nurture environments for conflict and structured debate in order to mitigate it.