Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It

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Overview

When confronted with an ethical dilemma, most of us like to think we would stand up for our principles. But we are not as ethical as we think we are. In Blind Spots, leading business ethicists Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel examine the ways we overestimate our ability to do what is right and how we act unethically without meaning to. From the collapse of Enron and corruption in the tobacco industry, to sales of the defective Ford Pinto and the downfall of Bernard Madoff, the authors investigate the nature of ethical failures in the business world and beyond, and illustrate how we can become more ethical, bridging the gap between who we are and who we want to be.

Explaining why traditional approaches to ethics don't work, the book considers how blind spots like ethical fading--the removal of ethics from the decision--making process--have led to tragedies and scandals such as the Challenger space shuttle disaster, steroid use in Major League Baseball, the crash in the financial markets, and the energy crisis. The authors demonstrate how ethical standards shift, how we neglect to notice and act on the unethical behavior of others, and how compliance initiatives can actually promote unethical behavior. Distinguishing our "should self" (the person who knows what is correct) from our "want self" (the person who ends up making decisions), the authors point out ethical sinkholes that create questionable actions.

Suggesting innovative individual and group tactics for improving human judgment, Blind Spots shows us how to secure a place for ethics in our workplaces, institutions, and daily lives.

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Editorial Reviews

BizEd
Well-written, stuffed with intriguing research, and more than a little unnerving, this book will make readers reconsider some of their most entrenched beliefs.
Forbes.com
[Blind Spots] is full of studies in human behavior and those results can help us, and the people we manage, make better decisions. . . . [T]he book should be required reading for anyone entering the business world . . . or for those of us who still try to reconcile misdeeds that did not have to be.
— Walter Pavlo
Guardian
One explanation for what happened at News of the World can be found in a new book called Blind Spots. Its authors Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel look at how businesses, from Ford to Enron to subprime mortgage lenders, can end up mired in ethical disaster. But rather than discuss such choices as coolly calculated trade-offs between right and wrong, they look at how people actually make decisions—under pressure from shareholders, bosses and colleagues, up against tight deadlines and often worried about their careers, or even whether their contracts are going to be renewed.
— Aditya Chakrabortty
The Globe & Mail
This book is a step toward . . . bringing together a host of studies by the authors and others that probe how easy it is for us [to] act less ethically than we would like. The book also shows how organizations can take advantage of these findings in behavioural ethics to change their informal culture . . .
— Harvey Schachter
The National
Blind Spots is a bold argument against the decency of human beings, showing how we subvert our ethical principles time and time again. Noting a human tendency to justify our own actions to ourselves with little thought for their consequences, business professors Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel explain how employees can give rise to dysfunctional organizations for fear of rocking the boat. . . . The authors adopt a lively tone throughout and harness a broad mix of examples, from lab experiments to the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster and the collapse of Enron.
— Gregor Hunter
Pittsburgh Business Times
Bazerman and Tenbrunsel apply insights from the field of behavioral ethics to understand why individuals and organizations act unethically and what can be done to prevent such behavior. They draw on research from psychology and business to illustrate how factors outside our awareness influence decisions and behavior, and what we can do to prevent ethical lapses.
— Taya R. Cohen
Toronto Star
In an era where we've watched political leaders tell blatant lies and seen the corporate world nearly sunk by an onslaught of questionable ethics, it's time to take a sober look at why people who think of themselves as moral can commit unethical and even unlawful acts—or approve the dishonest acts of others. . . . [T]his is examined in the recent book Blind Spots, by Harvard Business School professor Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel, professor of business ethics at the University of Notre Dame.
The Guardian
The style [of Blind Spots] is incisive and reassuringly uningratiating.
— Steven Poole
Montreal Gazette
Bazerman . . . and . . . Tenbrunsel . . . set out to show that if we are to make ethical decisions, we need to recognize such blind spots in ourselves as our failure to view our own immoral actions objectively and our tendency to act based on how we want to behave rather than on how we should.
— Susan Schwartz
Neuroskeptic blog
Blind Spots is a good book. It tells a story in a clear and compelling fashion, which is what a book is for. The story is that we often act unethically, not because we're faced with ethical questions and decide to pick the 'bad' option, but because we fail to see that there is an ethical issue at all.
Mouse Trap blog
If you want to be an ethical person or organization and are sometimes left nonplussed by the unethical behavior that still ensues nonetheless, then this is the right book to help you understand and correctly ensure that ethical behavior happens when push comes to shove.
Nashua Telegraph
Are we as ethical as we think we are? An important new book by . . . Max Bazerman and . . . Ann Tenbrunsel says probably not. In Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel make a convincing case that a significant gap exists between how ethical we think we are and how ethical we actually are.
— Scott Flegal
Choice
In their well-written, easily accessible text, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel rely on well-known cases of ethical failure and prior research, often previously popularized psychological studies, to frame the emerging field of behavioral ethics. . . . [I]t serves as an excellent introduction to the discipline.
Philosophy in Review
I will surely consider using the text in the classroom in the future. . . . [P]articularly if one is trying to establish organizational policy that encourages ethical behavior—there is a good deal here that will be of interest.
— J. Jeremy Wisnewski
Forbes.com - Walter Pavlo
[Blind Spots] is full of studies in human behavior and those results can help us, and the people we manage, make better decisions. . . . [T]he book should be required reading for anyone entering the business world . . . or for those of us who still try to reconcile misdeeds that did not have to be.
Guardian - Aditya Chakrabortty
One explanation for what happened at News of the World can be found in a new book called Blind Spots. Its authors Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel look at how businesses, from Ford to Enron to subprime mortgage lenders, can end up mired in ethical disaster. But rather than discuss such choices as coolly calculated trade-offs between right and wrong, they look at how people actually make decisions—under pressure from shareholders, bosses and colleagues, up against tight deadlines and often worried about their careers, or even whether their contracts are going to be renewed.
The Globe & Mail - Harvey Schachter
This book is a step toward . . . bringing together a host of studies by the authors and others that probe how easy it is for us [to] act less ethically than we would like. The book also shows how organizations can take advantage of these findings in behavioural ethics to change their informal culture . . .
Pittsburgh Business Times - Taya R. Cohen
Bazerman and Tenbrunsel apply insights from the field of behavioral ethics to understand why individuals and organizations act unethically and what can be done to prevent such behavior. They draw on research from psychology and business to illustrate how factors outside our awareness influence decisions and behavior, and what we can do to prevent ethical lapses.
The National - Gregor Hunter
Blind Spots is a bold argument against the decency of human beings, showing how we subvert our ethical principles time and time again. Noting a human tendency to justify our own actions to ourselves with little thought for their consequences, business professors Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel explain how employees can give rise to dysfunctional organizations for fear of rocking the boat. . . . The authors adopt a lively tone throughout and harness a broad mix of examples, from lab experiments to the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster and the collapse of Enron.
The Guardian - Steven Poole
The style [of Blind Spots] is incisive and reassuringly uningratiating.
Montreal Gazette - Susan Schwartz
Bazerman . . . and . . . Tenbrunsel . . . set out to show that if we are to make ethical decisions, we need to recognize such blind spots in ourselves as our failure to view our own immoral actions objectively and our tendency to act based on how we want to behave rather than on how we should.
Nashua Telegraph - Scott Flegal
Are we as ethical as we think we are? An important new book by . . . Max Bazerman and . . . Ann Tenbrunsel says probably not. In Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel make a convincing case that a significant gap exists between how ethical we think we are and how ethical we actually are.
Philosophy in Review - J. Jeremy Wisnewski
I will surely consider using the text in the classroom in the future. . . . [P]articularly if one is trying to establish organizational policy that encourages ethical behavior—there is a good deal here that will be of interest.
Poynter l Geisler

I enjoyed this book and think it is ideal for a team of managers to read together. Knowing how common it is for individuals to miss seeing a conflict or bias, colleagues could commit to challenging each other with candor and care.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2012 Silver Medal Book Award in Business Ethics, Axiom Business

"Well-written, stuffed with intriguing research, and more than a little unnerving, this book will make readers reconsider some of their most entrenched beliefs."—BizEd

"[Blind Spots] is full of studies in human behavior and those results can help us, and the people we manage, make better decisions. . . . [T]he book should be required reading for anyone entering the business world . . . or for those of us who still try to reconcile misdeeds that did not have to be."—Walter Pavlo, Forbes.com

"One explanation for what happened at News of the World can be found in a new book called Blind Spots. Its authors Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel look at how businesses, from Ford to Enron to subprime mortgage lenders, can end up mired in ethical disaster. But rather than discuss such choices as coolly calculated trade-offs between right and wrong, they look at how people actually make decisions—under pressure from shareholders, bosses and colleagues, up against tight deadlines and often worried about their careers, or even whether their contracts are going to be renewed."—Aditya Chakrabortty, Guardian

"This book is a step toward . . . bringing together a host of studies by the authors and others that probe how easy it is for us [to] act less ethically than we would like. The book also shows how organizations can take advantage of these findings in behavioural ethics to change their informal culture . . ."—Harvey Schachter, The Globe & Mail

"Bazerman and Tenbrunsel apply insights from the field of behavioral ethics to understand why individuals and organizations act unethically and what can be done to prevent such behavior. They draw on research from psychology and business to illustrate how factors outside our awareness influence decisions and behavior, and what we can do to prevent ethical lapses."—Taya R. Cohen, Pittsburgh Business Times

"Blind Spots is a bold argument against the decency of human beings, showing how we subvert our ethical principles time and time again. Noting a human tendency to justify our own actions to ourselves with little thought for their consequences, business professors Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel explain how employees can give rise to dysfunctional organizations for fear of rocking the boat. . . . The authors adopt a lively tone throughout and harness a broad mix of examples, from lab experiments to the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster and the collapse of Enron."—Gregor Hunter, The National

"In an era where we've watched political leaders tell blatant lies and seen the corporate world nearly sunk by an onslaught of questionable ethics, it's time to take a sober look at why people who think of themselves as moral can commit unethical and even unlawful acts—or approve the dishonest acts of others. . . . [T]his is examined in the recent book Blind Spots, by Harvard Business School professor Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel, professor of business ethics at the University of Notre Dame."—Toronto Star

"The style [of Blind Spots] is incisive and reassuringly uningratiating."—Steven Poole, The Guardian

"Bazerman . . . and . . . Tenbrunsel . . . set out to show that if we are to make ethical decisions, we need to recognize such blind spots in ourselves as our failure to view our own immoral actions objectively and our tendency to act based on how we want to behave rather than on how we should."—Susan Schwartz, Montreal Gazette
"Blind Spots is a good book. It tells a story in a clear and compelling fashion, which is what a book is for. The story is that we often act unethically, not because we're faced with ethical questions and decide to pick the 'bad' option, but because we fail to see that there is an ethical issue at all."—Neuroskeptic blog

"If you want to be an ethical person or organization and are sometimes left nonplussed by the unethical behavior that still ensues nonetheless, then this is the right book to help you understand and correctly ensure that ethical behavior happens when push comes to shove."—Mouse Trap blog

"Are we as ethical as we think we are? An important new book by . . . Max Bazerman and . . . Ann Tenbrunsel says probably not. In Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel make a convincing case that a significant gap exists between how ethical we think we are and how ethical we actually are."—Scott Flegal, Nashua Telegraph

"In their well-written, easily accessible text, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel rely on well-known cases of ethical failure and prior research, often previously popularized psychological studies, to frame the emerging field of behavioral ethics. . . . [I]t serves as an excellent introduction to the discipline."—Choice

"I enjoyed this book and think it is ideal for a team of managers to read together. Knowing how common it is for individuals to miss seeing a conflict or bias, colleagues could commit to challenging each other with candor and care."—Jill Geisler, Poynter

"I will surely consider using the text in the classroom in the future. . . . [P]articularly if one is trying to establish organizational policy that encourages ethical behavior—there is a good deal here that will be of interest."—J. Jeremy Wisnewski, Philosophy in Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691147505
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 3/20/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 872,005
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Max H. Bazerman is the Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is the author and coauthor of many books, including Negotiation Genius. Ann E. Tenbrunsel is the Rex and Alice A. Martin Professor of Business Ethics at the Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame. She is the coeditor of several books, including "Codes of Conduct".

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments ix Chapter 1: The Gap between Intended and Actual Ethical Behavior 1
Chapter 2: Why Traditional Approaches to Ethics Won't Save You 24
Chapter 3: When We Act against Our Own Ethical Values 38
Chapter 4: Why You Aren't as Ethical as You Think You Are 61
Chapter 5: When We Ignore Unethical Behavior 77
Chapter 6: Placing False Hope in the "Ethical Organization" 100
Chapter 7: Why We Fail to Fix Our Corrupted Institutions 128
Chapter 8: Narrowing the Gap: Interventions for Improving Ethical Behavior 152
Notes 173
Index 187
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