Beware of “Willful Blindness”

I heard an author Margaret Heffernan on a podcast describe something called “willful blindness.”

She sees the phenomena in many organizations. It is when people see something or know something that should be addressed and chose not to say anything about it. They ignore it. Act like it’s not there.

Therefore, they are willfully blind.

In a typical organization, she says up to 85% of the people will be willfully blind. She has studied this idea in many countries and societies. She says it is true of every place she has studied.

When you’re the CEO, you worry about an idea like “willful blindness”.

To the degree it is practiced, we are exposed. Problem situations aren’t being addressed. Opportunities for improvement are being ignored. Employee safety is being compromised. It isn’t good.

I am glad to learn of this concept “willful blindness”. While the term is new to me, I talk about the concept all the time. You see, the antidote to “willful blindness” is courageous communication.

I recognize that it takes courage to overcome willful blindness. The majority of folks won’t do it.

But, look at its power! To have people feel that they have the freedom to say what needs to be said or to make suggestions is an admirable objective.

To drive out fear that causes the blindness and to create trust which drives courageous communication is a game changer.

We are working hard to create an environment where courageous communication feels safe. My hope is more and more of us will speak up.