I wanted to do a book review of a fabulous book I came upon recently only after watching a great TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan, a documentary film producer, and CEO of Information Corporation. Margaret’s book, Willful Blindness (Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril) is published by Walker & Company and has been on the market since 2012. This is a wonderful book for any of you looking to develop more constructive conflict on your leadership teams, believe me.
Heffernan is a professor, a blogger, an author, a thought leader and a documentary film producer, in addition to being a CEO. Quite simply, she is accomplished and has some very provocative things to say in this book, things that are worth our attention. Her position, in a nutshell, is that over time, the daily flow of concepts, ideas, decisions, information and your experiences will eventually carve out a belief system from your neural pathways. Eventually, if you surround yourself with too much homogeneous thinking, and too many like-minded individuals, you will become blind to better ideas and more productive options. Eventually, if left unchecked, the “Willful Blindness” created by an over-indulgence in group-think will induce a sense of artificial harmony and well-being, which looks a lot like naiveté. Eventually, a very vulnerable single-mindedness results in being oblivious to threats to societal and individual goods.
The good news is that this “Willful Blindness” is not necessarily guaranteed, “that willful blindness is so pervasive does not mean that it is inevitable.“ Thank heaven for that! Heffernan encourages us to find our confidence and our voice and to speak up! Furthermore, she urges that we promote dialogue and reward team members who challenge the status quo, who challenge our thinking, and to welcome different points of view. Most of all, she encourages us to listen to that little voice (you know, the one that tugs at our sense of right and wrong) and, when you feel that a situation is just not aligned correctly, speak out and make things right.
In a world where most of us surround ourselves with others who make us feel safe and support our sense of self and our sense of community, it is important to pay attention to conflicting data and conflicting arguments that help us to identify the right path. We need to push past cognitive dissonance. We need to encourage conflict and divergent views that help us to access the best in the team, not just the group-think that helps us to all sleep soundly at night. By stretching out a bit, each of us can begin to admit new information that might not make us feel great about ourselves at the moment, but might help us to arrive at better solutions in the end. Each of us could afford to see more clearly, and Heffernan has proposed some very powerful ideas that deserve to see the light of day. Give this fantastic book a read and let me know if you found it as challenging as I did. If you can make the time, also check out Margaret’s outstanding TED Talk on YouTube titled, Dare to Disagree.
The TED Talk is outstanding in its own right, and Margaret challenges all of us to ensure that our organizations actively encourage our associates to disagree with and challenge one another. Bottom line: If we’re not engaging in constructive conflict, we miss out on the best ideas and don’t force ourselves to stand up to scrutiny to strengthen our ideas and find the most valuable solutions.
Conflict is uncomfortable as all hell for most of us. But with a little focus and some time outside of the comfort zone, we can all learn to actively encourage ourselves and our teams to challenge one another and discover the best, most sustainable solutions. Let me know what you think….