The Dangers of Willful Blindness – #MTtalk » Mind Tools Blog
The Dangers of Willful Blindness - #MTtalk

The Dangers of Willful Blindness – #MTtalk

March 27, 2018

Please Join Us!

What: #MTtalk
Where: Twitter
When: Friday, March 30 @ 1 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. GMT/10:30 p.m. IST)
Topic: The Dangers of Willful Blindness
Host: @Mind_Tools

“When we care about people, we care less about money, and when we care about money, we care less about people.”
― Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur and author

About This Week’s Chat

Can you remember what you were doing on October 13, 2010? If it weren’t for an event that made news headlines all over the world, I might have written it off as just another day.

But, on that day, 33 Chilean miners were winched to the surface – one at a time, in a specially built capsule – from the depths of a collapsed mine. An estimated one billion people worldwide watched. I’m sure that many of them, like me, cheered and cried as the drama unfolded.

Although the story had a happy ending, the disaster should never have happened in the first place. But it did, because good people – like you and me – chose to ignore the truth that was plain to see.

A Dangerous Dungeon

In his book, “Deep Down Dark,” journalist Héctor Tobar described the San José Mine as an accident waiting to happen.

The San Esteban Primera Mining Company, which owns the mine, received 42 fines between 2004 and 2010 for breaching safety regulations. After relatives of a miner who had died in an accident sued company executives in 2007, the San José Mine was shut down. Then, even though it still failed to comply with regulations, it reopened in 2008. Workers’ wages were around 20 percent higher than in other Chilean mines, due to its poor safety record.

The mine was 121 years old at the time that the massive rockfall occurred, on August 5, 2010. It had been systematically hollowed out by men and their machines.

A ramp descended into the belly of the mountain that contains the precious metals. It consisted of a series of switchbacks and hairpin bends, and further down it became a spiral. The ramp was the only way in and out of the mine.

Working conditions were deplorable. Miners often didn’t even ask for basic equipment. They lived in fear of the management, who could fire a miner in an instant if they regarded him as “troublesome.”

The safety precautions in the mine were even worse. For instance, it had vertical escape tunnels, but there were no ladders in the shafts. A vertical shaft without any means to scale it is useless.

Signs of Disaster

A few months before the rockfall that blocked the ramp, one of the miners discovered a finger-wide crack in the roof of the ramp, a few hundred feet underground. One of the experienced shift supervisors said that he would not go back into the mine, and neither should anybody else until engineers had inspected it and evaluated the situation. After inspection, the mine manager and engineers declared the mine safe.

A few weeks later the crack widened, and water started flowing from it – but the company still said there was no cause for alarm. Unusual events troubled many of the older miners. They observed falling debris where there shouldn’t have been any. More cracks appeared at different levels. And the miners regularly heard a loud wailing sound as rock shifted far below the deepest level of the mine. It sounded as if the mountain was crying. After these “wails,” they would hear thunderous rockfalls in the depths.

The miners raised their concerns with management several times, but to no avail. There were no ears that were willing to hear, and no eyes that were willing to see. The mine manager even called one of the miners a coward for complaining about the safety of the mine.

The situation culminated in a massive rockfall that trapped 33 miners underground for 69 days. Their rescue was only made possible by a combination of science, technology, and the goodwill of many countries who donated money, equipment and experts.

The Dangers of Willful Blindness

If the Chilean mine’s management had stopped production to undertake geological and structural inspections, it would have meant losing money – and they weren’t about to sacrifice income for safety. Prioritizing profit over the lives of easily replaceable employees caused them to be “willfully blind.”

In her book,” Willful Blindness,” business leader Margaret Heffernan writes about this phenomenon, and the threat it poses to society. It doesn’t always result in something as serious as the loss of life. It can be as insidious as pretending not to notice that remarks have a racist or sexist undertone.

In our Twitter poll this week, we asked you what kind of willful blindness you’ve seen in the workplace. More than a third of you said that you have experienced people being willfully blind to sexism. Almost as many participants said that they have experienced people being willfully blind to racism. Click here to see all of the results.

In Friday’s #MTtalk chat, we’re going to talk about “The Dangers of Willful Blindness.” We’d love you to participate in the chat, and the following questions may spark some thoughts in preparation for it:

  • What do we mean by “willful blindness?”
  • What examples of willful blindness have you experienced or seen in the workplace, and what were its effects?
  • How can company culture/leadership contribute to willful blindness, and what are the warning signs?
  • What makes us, as individuals, prefer ignorance? Why don’t we want to see what’s in front of us?
  • What makes some people “see” more than others?
  • How can we guard against willful blindness in ourselves?


To help you to prepare for the chat, we’ve compiled a list of resources for you to browse:

The Change Curve
Ethical Leadership
Level 5 Leadership
Jennings’ Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse
Helping People Take Responsibility
What Are Your Values?

How to Join Our Chat

Follow us on Twitter to make sure that you don’t miss out on any of the action this Friday! We’ll be tweeting out 10 questions during our hour-long chat. To participate, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “All Tweets” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. You can join the chat by using the hashtag #MTtalk in your responses.

2 thoughts on “The Dangers of Willful Blindness – #MTtalk

  1. Aaron wrote:

    Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur, CEO, writer and keynote speaker. Her motto: ‘Let’s not play the game, let’s change it.’

    1. Midgie Thompson wrote:

      Thanks Aaron for sharing that motto from Margaret Heffernan. We need people who are the ‘disrupters’ to challenge the status quo!

      Mind Tools Team

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Please note that we reserve the right to remove comments that we feel are off-topic or offensive. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

View our Privacy Policy.

© Mind Tools Ltd, 1996-2020. All rights reserved. "Mind Tools" is a registered trademark of Mind Tools Ltd.

Click here for permissions information.