Black Box Thinking
The surprising truth about success
(and why some people never learn from their mistakes)
Introducing a powerful new book from the bestselling writer and speaker Matthew Syed.
This is the story of the surprising truth about success.
About how some of the most innovative and pioneering organizations in the world are succeeding…
… and what you can learn from them.
We begin by looking at some of the greatest succcesses in business, sport and the wider world and asking a question…
AviAtion industry … what connects them?
What do the Mercedes Formulae team andGoogle have in common?
What is the connection between Dave Brailsford’s Team Sky and the aviation industry?
Or inventor James Dyson and basketball player Michael Jordan?
The answer? ?
Or more accurately how they reacted to failure…
… learning from their mistakes and reversing their fortunes for success.
This is Black Box Thinking.
And this is what you need to know about successful Black Box Thinking, in one handy guide.
1. Change a little, achieve a lot (a.k.a. Marginal Gains)
Marginal gains has become a buzz topic. But what is it?
A systematic attempt to discover small, often unnoticed weaknesses in one’s assumptions, and then to improve each one of them.
Dave Brailsford noted tiny problems in bike design, aerodynamic efficiency, diet and a host of other things.
Each marginal gain improved performance by a fraction. The accumulation of gains was the difference between finishing mid-table and winning gold.
Google conducted a series of tests to see if changing the colour of their web-links could improve click-throughs.
The results recommended that they tweak their links to a slightly greener shade of blue.
2. Avoid Closed Loops
The inability to face up to where we are going wrong, is the biggest single obstacle to success. Not merely for big institutions, but for individuals.
But why is it important to avoid closed loops?
Detecting and adapting to errors is nearly non-existent in the healthcare industry.
There are around 400,000 fatalities caused by preventable medical error in the United States alone.
That is the equivalent of two jumbo jets falling out of the sky every day.
Medical mistakes are often spun or denied, and lessons are rarely learnt. This is why deaths continue to occur in the same way over and over again.
And it is not just healthcare that falls victim to closed loops.
A study by the University of Michigan estimates that if prison sentences were reviewed with the same level of care as death sentences, there would have been ‘over 28,500 exonerations in the past fifteen years’…
… rather than the 255 that have in fact occurred.
Why? Because the criminal justice system doesn’t learn from its mistakes either.
Learning from our mistakes is essential to engender success. After all, how can we improve if we don’t learn?
3. No blame, no shame
The fear of blame, is a dangerous obstacle on the road to success.
A report by Harvard Business Review found that executives believe that only 2 to 5 per cent of failures in their organisations were truly blameworthy…
… but when asked how many mistakes were treated as blameworthy the number was between 70 and 90 per cent.
This tendency to point the finger and demand retribution, even when a colleague was doing his or her best, obliterates the sharing of information that drives progress.
Successful cultures are open and honest, not closed and back-covering.
4. Try, try again
In many areas of life, we have to fail a lot before we come up with a good solution.
One of the most famous examples of this comes in the form of inventor James Dyson.
Dyson worked his way through many prototypes to make his dual cyclone vacuum cleaner…
… many, many attempts…
5,127 prototypes to be exact.
To put it another way, he had to fail 5,126 times before he created a world-changing success.
1. Change a little, achieve a lot (a.k.a. Marginal Gains) 2. Avoid Closed Loops 3. No blame, no shame 4. Try, try again
By applying these rules to our social institutions, our political institutions and our own lives we can build, develop and ultimately succeed.
That’s why we need more Black Box Thinking.
‘Matthew Syed has issued a stirring call to revolutionise how we think about success – by changing our attitude to failure. Failure shouldn’t be shameful and stigmatising, but exciting and enlightening. Full of well-crafted stories and keenly deployed scientific insights, Black Box Thinking will forever change the way you think about screwing up.’ DANIEL PINK, AUTHOR OF DRIVE & TO SELL IS HUMAN
‘Creative breakthroughs always begin with multiple failures. This brilliant book shows how true invention lies in the understanding and overcoming of these failures, which we must learn to embrace.’ JAMES DYSON, DESIGNER, INVENTOR & ENTREPRENEUR
#blackboxthinking OUT NOW