Monday 30 October 2023

Full Nelson

I've just knocked off Margaret Heffernan's book Wilful Blindness - Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. I think it must have sailed over my horizon is one (or more) of Matthew Syed's Sideways podcasts, on which I've been on a bit of a jag this Fall. Full Nelson? an English skoolboy - everbode kno - reference.

I believe that most of Wilful Blindness is worth reading despite such unscientific assertions as "The trade-off between social and financial motivation and the sense that one works against the other is intuitively understandable even if it isn't statistically demonstrable". And citing the work of Dan Ariely before his fall from grace put all his intuitively understandable psychobabble into jeopardy. You don't have to accept a psychological explanation for why people ignore or justify Wrong Things to accept that such things happen. The book is stuffed with examples from business, finance, politics where everyone worked to keep the train steaming ahead firmly not knowing "la la la can't hear you" that the bridge is out up ahead and everyone's gonna die.

Although only the see no evil monkey appears on the book's cover, there are plenty of examples inside where the problem is that everbode kno that such-a-colleague is a misogynistic bully (or whatever sin) but effectively nobode speaks up. Worse is that low-power people, including direct victims, do speak up but those who can implement change for the better wimp out of doing so. And, of course, hearing evil is the same as seeing evil

Another issue is that, even when perps are caught bang to right, there are no sanctions. Wilfully incompetent, lazy, executives still get the golden handshake and pension rights to which they are 'entitled'.  It is only rarely that corrupt practice and negligence is exposed in public tribunal - like the endless sessions about the UK governments response to CoViD-19. For every such forensic investigation, like the Finlay (blood products) Tribunal here, there will be dozens for which there is no money, no appetite, to prosecute. At least partly because, like Finlay, none of the perps were sanctioned.

Similar ideas are explored in Matthew Syed's book Black Box which is on my To Read list. One of the key problems in corporate life is groupthink, which is encouraged because executives hire people in their own image. This is the real reason why corporations and institutions should embrace multiculturalism and hire more women, minorities and foreign-johnnies. These outsiders will bring different ways-of-seeing to the table and make it more likely to flag crazy, corrupt, or contagious ideas before they get traction.

Heffernan's book is easy to read, if not easy-reading. Here's a 10 minute executive summary podcast - with transcript! And of course Heffernan has a Dare To Disagree TEDtalk, on conflict-avoidance and the necessity of talking to different-thinking people.And another TEDx on Libby MT asbestos scandal, Abu Ghraib and so on and on.

Kein Operationsplan reicht mit einiger Sicherheit ├╝ber das erste Zusammentreffen mit der feindlichen Hauptmacht hinaus. General von Moltke (1871) = No plan survives contact with the enemy.

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