I have recently read two books by Margaret Heffernan; ‘Wilful Blindness’ and ‘Beyond Measure – The big impact of small changes’. It’s unusual for me to read two books by the same author back to back but I enjoyed Wilful Blindness so much I wanted to read the other straight away, both are excellent reads, AND made me reflect on our facilitation practice.

I am going share why I felt both were relevant but first Wilful Blindness probably needs explaining a little more by way of a definition.

Wilful blindness is sometimes called ignorance of law. Wilful or contrived ignorance is a term used in law to describe a situation in which a person looks to avoid civil or criminal liability for a wrongful act by intentionally keeping himself or herself unaware of facts that would render him or her liable.

This is often thrown out in court as the court quickly determine that the defendant SHOULD have known.

The term wilful blindness has come to mean any situation in which people intentionally send their attention away from a problem, either because the problem is too disturbing or from the knowledge that solving the problem would require considerable effort. Closely related to “ignorance is bliss”.

What wilful blindness made me think about was how sometimes in meetings and workshops participants, and even some key clients/stakeholders, choose to ignore the obvious, or choose to ignore certain participant’s opinions or feedback. This can be likened to ignoring the elephant in the room. This ignorance may be down to the fact that they either simply do not want to address the obvious or hear the obvious, for whatever reason(s).

As Facilitators it is our job to ensure that the elephant does indeed get addressed, broken down in to manageable chunks, but addressed none the less. It is also our role to ensure all participants views are heard and captured if necessary and appropriate. BUT, this does have to be contracted with your client and participants, preferably beforehand and most definitely at the start of the meeting or workshop.

The second book I mention above, ‘Beyond Measure – The big impact of small changes’, is a smaller book from the TED series, and focuses on how actually it is often the smallest of changes that can have the biggest impact rather than going for the big wholesale change that might at first seem the best option. This also made me reflect on our facilitation practice and how actually, it’s often the small changes in a meeting or workshop that can have the biggest or most dramatic impact.

For example, it might be a small change in approach, a tweak on how you use a tool, technique or process, a short pause for reflection, a timely Facilitator intervention, a short unscheduled break, a simple, clear and well thought through question, a simple marker pen diagram on a flip chart, a single comment or remark or even a little bit of humour that can make a big difference or change.

With regards to both wilful blindness of participants and small changes, both require us as Facilitators to be on our ‘A game’; by creating a safe space and environment to enable participants to see and hear the obvious, and by observing, listening and making timely and appropriate Facilitator interventions.

I strongly recommend both Wilful Blindness and Beyond Measure (Margaret Heffernan) as great reads.

If you are or colleagues are suffering from wilful blindness or you have an elephant in your room you would like to chat about or if you just would like more information on the type of meetings and workshops we facilitate please visit us at or call us for a chat on +44 (0) 1279 723 283.

23rd September, 2016

Private, public, third sector clients

  • Hockerill College
  • Zurich
  • Johnson Service Group PLC
  • Institute of Education (IoE)
  • BBC
  • Spear
  • Business, Innovation & Skills UK Government Department
  • Allianz
  • Pace
  • Walt Disney
  • Allergan
  • Centrica
  • Clinical Research Network
  • Fifteen Foundation
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA
  • Police Strategy Unit (PSU)
  • London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
  • Office for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR)
  • Bruel & Kjaer
  • Citizen’s Advice Bureau
  • KnowledgeBrief
  • Barclays
  • West Kent Arts Patnership
  • WiPM (Women in Project Management)
  • Ministry of Defence (M.o.D)
  • Cubic
  • Government Office for London
  • Novartis
  • Participle
  • Catalyst
  • RSA
  • BP
  • Severn Trent Services
  • The Prince’s Trust
  • Cross Roads Care
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • Barclay Card
  • Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP)
  • Diageo
  • Brit Insurance
  • ACAS
  • Training for Life
  • Sareos
  • MBNA
  • Natwest
  • Upstage
  • Training and Development Agency (TDA)
  • Health & Safety Executive
  • Elavon
  • Independent Living Fund – Scotland
  • Diabetes UK
  • European Bank for Reconstruction & Development
  • Ident Trust
  • The Talent Foundation
  • Zero Waste Scotland
  • IMS
  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
  • Virgin Media
  • RBS
  • Action For Children
  • Mental Health Research Network (MHRN)
  • Broadway Theatre
  • Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation
  • Home Office
  • BT
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • UCAS
  • Harris HospisCare
  • MARS
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Westminster
  • NHS
  • Stakeholder Forum For a Sustainable Future
  • English National Balle
  • QBE
  • Learn Purple
  • Jobcentre Plus
  • Maritime Cluster
  • St. Ethelburgas Centre for Reconciliation & Peace
  • Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA
  • Change First
  • Turkcell
  • The Royal British Legion
  • Vodafone
  • Greenwich Local Authority Childrens Services
  • jkr
  • Shoreditch Trust
  • McDonalds
  • British Gas
  • School-Home Support
  • Triodis Bank
  • Citi
  • Eurojet
  • Scott Wilson
  • Hyde Plus

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