Why we’re blind to change

05 Dec
December 5, 2014

When it comes to tough issues we’re often blind to change – so it’s time to break change!  That’s right – it’s time to break many of our change models and look at change with fresh eyes.  Last week I wrote about how we need to revisit our approach to some of the underlying models that we’ve relied upon for so long and I want to continue the theme this week.

I’ve written before about the various studies that have shown that almost 70 percent of large-scale change programmes fail to meet their goals.  Sadly this is no longer ‘big news’ and has almost become an accepted fact – and that makes it an exceptionally dangerous place to be!

Sleepwalking into the known

It’s a sad fact but life is littered with examples of a need for change that somehow goes ignored.  Perhaps it’s the Enron scandal, the build-up to the banking crisis or BP’s safety record – there’s example after example of failing to see – or admit to ourselves or our colleagues – the issues and problems in plain sight.  This situation – known as wilful blindness – can ruin private lives and bring down corporations.

Wilful blindness

As the expert on this issue, Margaret Heffernan argues that the biggest threats and dangers we face are the ones we don’t see – not because they’re secret or invisible, but because we’re wilfully blind.

Margaret says, “We make ourselves powerless when we choose not to know.  But we give ourselves hope when we insist on looking.  The very fact that wilful blindness is willed, that it is a product of a rich mix of experience, knowledge, thinking, neurons, and neuroses, is what gives us the capacity to change it . . . . we can learn to see better, not just because our brain changes but because we do.  As all wisdom does, seeing starts with simple questions: What could I know, should I know, that I don’t know?  Just what am I missing here?”

Keep your baby eyes open

In 1926, investigative journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote a letter to his baby son saying “Keep your baby eyes (which are the eyes of genius) on what we don’t know.”  These are wonderful words and this sentiment is at the heart of overcoming wilful blindness.  We need to stay sharp – to constantly challenge – and to not accept the status quo.


Keeping our eyes open and retaining a sense of awareness is what will keep us from wilful blindness – for if we become blind to what is around us then we will sleepwalk into severe problems.  Stay alert, keep your eyes open and challenge change – always!

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