The fallout from the Enron fiasco had far-reaching effects on the economy and the public’s trust in corporations. It serves as a powerful lesson in the dangers of motivated blindness—when individuals have a personal stake in unethical actions, they often look the other way or find ways to rationalize their behavior.
The folks at Arthur Andersen, serving as Enron’s external auditor, found themselves in a precarious situation. On the one hand, they were supposed to ensure financial integrity, but on the other hand, they acted as consultants, aiding Enron in manipulating financial transactions to deceive investors and manipulate earnings. Enron generously poured hefty fees their way, with auditing fees exceeding $25 million and consulting fees reaching $27 million in 2001. So, why would they want to put an end to this lucrative gravy train? To complicate matters further, many auditors from Andersen were eagerly vying for coveted positions at Enron, just like their fortunate colleagues.
To combat motivated blindness, it’s crucial to reflect on our biases, hold ourselves accountable, and actively seek out diverse perspectives to gain a broader understanding of any given issue. Max Bazerman, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See (2014,) asserts that individuals can overcome their inclination to overlook vital clues by fostering a “noticing mindset.” This involves consistently asking oneself and others, both within and outside the organization, the question: “Which critical threats and challenges might we be neglecting?”