top of page
Wilful Blindness and Trust, at Work V1 (No Text).png
LOGO CMYK CMI Fellow.jpg

Wilful awareness; problem prediction - avoiding the many forms of wilful blindness, understanding what it is, why it matters, and what it costs...

Wilful blindness is a useful catch-all phrase that can be applied to a range of naturally occurring human behaviours. It manifests itself in many ways and in many different situations and settings. You may know it as blind spot bias, conscious avoidance, moral myopia, motivated blindness, summit fever, tunnel vision, or wilful ignorance. It is closely related to the bystander effect, and despite its claim to be wilful, it is often though not always, an unconscious act. Like all behavioural labels, it exists on a continuum and is situationally specific.     

Most of the tragedies that have beset the health and care sector in recent years, and the damaging events that have affected private and third sector companies such as VW, Oxfam, and the Co-Op, could all have been prevented had the organisations had a wilfully aware culture that was not only open to feedback but proactively vigilant. As a naturally occurring human behaviour wilful blindness is present to some degree in all of us and therefore in all organisations, small and large, public, private and voluntary. However, it is especially prevalent in large public service organisations where the absence of choice, competition, and comparison, creates a climate in which the views of stakeholders are marginalised and often ignored. In the public sector the regulator and not the end-user, is widely regarded as the organisation's primary customer.

Wilful blindness is a barrier to learning, a source of vast unacknowledged financial cost, and a cause of immeasurable personal pain and loss. Wilful blindness costs organisations millions and taxpayers and stakeholders billions each year in avoidable compensation, litigation, and investigation costs. And it costs the wider system billions more to implement and manage all the many monitoring structures and roles needed to deal with avoidable incidents after they occur. Dealing with the impact of wilful blindness diverts scarce resources from the many other areas that sorely need them. The opportunity cost of these diverted resources is unknowably large and undoubtedly huge.

Wilful blindness is, in essence, the polar opposite of self-awareness, understanding, and curiosity, at both the individual and organisational level. Wilfully blind organisations are storing up problems which will ultimately surface, harming employees and service users. The presence of unchecked wilful blindness leads to a process of ethical fading which is manifested in a lack of engagement, openness, and low levels of trust in and around the organisation. This has a direct impact on safety, quality, staff engagement, retention, recruitment, and operational costs. 

​Organisational cultures in which wilful blindness is allowed to thrive create a destructive cycle in which increasing amounts of scarce resources are used to deal with the growing costs of ever-rising levels of failure demand. Vital value-adding preventative activities are starved of attention as more and more funds and effort are used to firefight and deal with the next inevitable crisis. It doesn't have to be this way. Get in touch to find out how you and your organisation can become more wilfully aware and responsive... 

bottom of page