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Are you suffering from willful blindness?




I’ve recently re-read Wilful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan. I recommend it. It was shortlisted for the FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award back in 2011.

The author first encountered the concept of ‘wilful blindness’ while reading Judge Simeon Lay’s summing up during the massive Enron trial in the U.S. He said:


‘You may find that a defendant has knowledge of a fact if you find that the defendant deliberately closed his eyes to what would otherwise have been obvious to him. Knowledge can be inferred if the defendant deliberately blinded himself to the existence of fact.’

This legal principle of willful blindness means that someone is responsible if they could have known and should have known something, which instead they strove not to see.’


Ignore the obvious at your peril


The gist of the book is how we deliberately refuse to see things and how we ignore the obvious at our peril. However, we look away, ignore signals and convince ourselves that it’s ‘our way or the highway.’ We all experience this kind of thinking in our everyday lives. It can be as basic as looking in the mirror, breathing in and ignoring weight gain to refusing to review or give house room to new ideas as ‘it’s not what we need right now.’ We are actually very good at not quite telling ourselves the truth. I am guessing you all recognise the syndrome.



Change really is the only constant


In fact it’s quite hard to keep up with the mass of data, ideas, innovation and stress that comes our way. Therefore the easiest thing to do is ‘keep on doing what we’re doing.’ It’s strange really that this is so often the default position because, as we know, ‘change IS the only constant’. Even if we stubbornly maintain habits the world moves on and innovation can catch us out when we’ve stopped looking for it.


We often ignore new ideas as they are too tiring!


So, what’s my point? I guess we feel comfortable with the things we know. Change can be very discomforting. Even opening up a brand new phone can feel daunting; we understand the principles but when you don’t feel confident about where things are it can be stressful. Inevitably we try to avoid confrontation or new challenges and do our best to retain the status quo, basically because it’s easier.



It’s easy to be critical of collective lack of vision


There are some pretty big fails in the world of business when it comes to willful blindness. Remember Nokia’s spectacular crash from world tech leader to ‘has been’? What about Kodak’s refusal to embrace digital? We look aghast at the collective lack of vision but are we all guilty of the exact same thing on a day-to-day basis?


How innovative does a recruiter have to be these days?


In my line of work I know how innovative and creative approaches can make a massive difference to the recruitment process. For example, when you are looking for the top 1% of highly qualified, driven individuals, companies need to be innovative in their recruitment approach. This is especially true when it’s also highly likely that competitors are not simply putting an ad on LinkedIn then keeping their fingers crossed someone will come along. Yes, that does happen. Some rely on internal teams that have traditional processes in place they are loathe to change. I know for a fact that these strategies can cost businesses thousands of pounds when key positions go unfilled.


Therefore it’s worth reviewing your own approach to recruitment.


· Ask yourself are you experiencing legacy thinking processes? Have you understood the changes in recruitment practices and what people expect from a company?

· Are you relying on recruitment generalists rather than specialists?

· Are you recruitment processes really targeted?

· How effective are the promotional packs you create to convince potential candidates you are the type of company they might like to work with, even when they are not looking for a new role?

· Finally, what are you doing about overcoming recruitment inertia?

It really is worth taking the time to regularly review recruitment practices.


After all, you never know what innovation has passed you by. Consider the reaction James Dyson received when he took his new bagless technology to Hoover. In effect they told him they were a world leader, anyway, so a bagless vacuum didn’t make much sense to their business model. It was all very innovative but wasn’t of much relevance or interest to such a giant as Hoover.



What's the financial impact of not recruiting the right people?


It is always difficult to quantify the cost of not recruiting or indeed recruiting the wrong person. If a company does not have the right person leading their New Product Development team their competitors will bring new and innovative products to market before them, this could cause them to miss out on literally millions. Not having the right commercial team in place will lead to loss of revenues no matter how good products are. The non-financial impact could be reduced staff moral as they are with out a strong leader or they are having to work extra hours to compensate for not enough manpower.


With hindsight it seems bizarre to think about such shortsightedness but we all experience this ‘wilful blindness’ in so many aspects of our lives. Isn’t it time we all reviewed what we do? Shouldn’t we make the effort to examine just what the competition are up to and also keep abreast of current and potential trends? If were are all to remain relevant and competitive surely that’s the very least we can do. What do you think?


If any of this has given you food for thought then perhaps it’s worth having a chat about your potential options. If this is of interest then do give me a call for a no obligation discussion on +44 7793 526078. On the other hand you can Click Here to schedule an appointment directly with me, to suit your needs.


Wilful Blindness - Margaret Heffernan, Simon & Schuster 2011