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Dangers of Willful Blindness


Dangers of Willful Blindness

By , September 30, 2015

What is willful blindness? It is when we have the necessary information or ought to know something, yet continue to refuse to accept it or act on that information. At a societal level it can be illustrated by people continuing to smoke when all the evidence suggests that it’s likely to be harmful to our health or even kill us. Similarly we have ever growing levels of obesity and sugar diabetes in our society, yet many of us continue to eat too much of the wrong types of foods and do little or no exercise. Why as supposedly intelligent human beings do we continue to behave like this?

Is it out of fear? Is it out of a sense of complacency that somehow it will all work itself out, or that governments or scientists will find a solution that doesn’t require any action or effort from us? Is it because at an individual level we don’t feel that we can solve these issues? Or is it all just too hard?

For business owners, we all know that there is a huge wave of baby boomers out there who are all heading towards retirement or transitioning out of their businesses in the short to medium term. We also know that this age group also own and/or control a huge percentage of the small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and family businesses out there. The unavoidable reality is that many of these businesses will therefore be up for sale at a similar time. The laws of supply and demand therefore dictate that it will only be the well prepared and performing businesses that will attract premium prices. Why then aren’t more business and professional practice owners taking action on this now in relation to their own businesses? Perhaps its willful blindness?

Why don’t more of us take action in this area? Is it because of pride? Is it because we created and built this business and we’re hanging on because we don’t know what we are going to do next and therefore don’t want to let the business go? Is it because this business is “who I am”, and without it I feel like I have lost my identity? Or do we just not want to face up to the fact that we are getting older and perhaps our business is not worth quite as much as we would like it to be? Possibly it’s a combination of more than one of these things.

What then is the solution? Just like giving up smoking or adopting a healthier lifestyle it’s just a matter of not hiding from the issue and taking action. Whether we are teenagers or middle aged men and women we are all prone to adopting the fall back position of avoidance and procrastination. But unlike teenagers, we as baby boomers, no longer have our parents to prompt us into action. Some people are already starting to walk away from their businesses because they’re not selling. Once you get to the point of lacking enthusiasm, energy and commitment for your business it’s possibly too late. It takes some time and energy to prepare a business for a well organised and profitable transition or sale.

We are all guilty of willful blindness in some aspect of our lives. Every time I drive to the golf course and take my clubs out of the car I know the day is likely to end in frustration and more numbers on my score card than I would like. Do I take any action to address the situation? No, it’s just a continuing pattern of wishful thinking and willful blindness.


Scott Patterson

Director | Succession Plus

Scott Patterson has extensive business and professional experience, including over 20 years as a principal of a highly successful public accounting and financial planning firm. His passion is working with clients to improve the value of their businesses, and create a more certain future for them, their stakeholders and their families.

Scott's aim is to deliver strategic thinking, tailored advice and integrated solutions for family businesses, SME's and agricultural enterprises.