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Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes--But Some Do Hardcover – Illustrated, November 3, 2015
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We all have to endure failure from time to time, whether it’s underperforming at a job interview, flunking an exam, or losing a pickup basketball game. But for people working in safety-critical industries, getting it wrong can have deadly consequences. Consider the shocking fact that preventable medical error is the third-biggest killer in the United States, causing more than 400,000 deaths every year. More people die from mistakes made by doctors and hospitals than from traffic accidents. And most of those mistakes are never made public, because of malpractice settlements with nondisclosure clauses.
For a dramatically different approach to failure, look at aviation. Every passenger aircraft in the world is equipped with an almost indestructible black box. Whenever there’s any sort of mishap, major or minor, the box is opened, the data is analyzed, and experts figure out exactly what went wrong. Then the facts are published and procedures are changed, so that the same mistakes won’t happen again. By applying this method in recent decades, the industry has created an astonishingly good safety record.
Few of us put lives at risk in our daily work as surgeons and pilots do, but we all have a strong interest in avoiding predictable and preventable errors. So why don’t we all embrace the aviation approach to failure rather than the health-care approach? As Matthew Syed shows in this eye-opening book, the answer is rooted in human psychology and organizational culture.
Syed argues that the most important determinant of success in any field is an acknowledgment of failure and a willingness to engage with it. Yet most of us are stuck in a relationship with failure that impedes progress, halts innovation, and damages our careers and personal lives. We rarely acknowledge or learn from failure—even though we often claim the opposite. We think we have 20/20 hindsight, but our vision is usually fuzzy.
Syed draws on a wide range of sources—from anthropology and psychology to history and complexity theory—to explore the subtle but predictable patterns of human error and our defensive responses to error. He also shares fascinating stories of individuals and organizations that have successfully embraced a black box approach to improvement, such as David Beckham, the Mercedes F1 team, and Dropbox.
"Mathew Syed has issued a stirring call to redefine failure. Failure shouldn’t be shameful and stigmatizing, he explains. Instead, he shows that failure can be exciting and enlightening — an essential ingredient in any recipe for success. 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 and To Sell Is Human
Praise for Bounce
"Insightful and entertaining"
—DAN ARIELY, author of Predictably Irrational
"The most important book I’ve read over the past six months."
—PETER ORSZAG, economist, in The New York Times
"A fascinating subject and Syed is a dazzling writer."
—OWEN SLOT, The Times London
"Everything Mathew Syed Writes is worth reading."
—LYNN TRUSS, bestselling author of Eat, Shoots & Leaves
About the Author
- Publisher : Portfolio; Illustrated edition (November 3, 2015)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1591848229
- ISBN-13 : 978-1591848226
- Item Weight : 1.16 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.31 x 1.11 x 9.38 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #187,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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Throughout “Black Box Thinking”, Matthew Syed creates an enlightening experience by backing up the theory with a series of real-life stories and accounts. The intended goal is for the reader to understand that current definitions and judgments of failure do not allow us to achieve our full potential. Syed emphasizes to the reader, to grasp the idea that we have the capacity to make the difference by embracing our failures. As Heather Hanbury, headmistress of Wimbledon High School, stated in the text, “You’re not born with fear of failure, it’s not an instinct, it’s something that grows and develops as you get older”. We must work diligently to change the manner with which failure is processed and handled. Only then will we realize the massive potential for growth as a society, and that we should no longer fear mistakes because “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”.
Syed presents a different perspective regarding failure. Not only should we acknowledge it, Syed says, we should take responsibility for it and use mistakes and failures as tools for improvement, rather than attempt to cover them up or hide from them. Syed, stresses that we must reshape the way we think about failure, not just personally, but also on organizational and societal levels; to systematically turn negatives into positives. Rather than being focused on avoiding mistakes, Syed details how to analyze the situation and develop insights to ensure that similar mistakes are not repeated. More importantly, Syed does not merely state what we are currently doing wrong versus what we should be doing, he provides a breadth of detailed examples to illustrate his points.
Syed refers to the ideology of addressing failure as, “Black Box Thinking”. Throughout his compelling and captivating analysis, Syed refers to the airline industry as the antithesis of Black Box Thinking and contrasts it to the medical industry and the criminal justice system. He uses references to black box data recorders on aircrafts as not only enabling the industry to learn causes of crashes and malfunctions but also facilitate amendments to past protocols and procedures. Then contrasts this process with medicine and criminal justice often not taking ownership of mistakes, calling them “one-offs” or an anomaly, never admitting to the failure. Syed refers to this phenomenon as cognitive dissonance and therefore
never investigating the failed procedures or oversites. The author also directs the reader’s attention to how admitting failure, examination of the cause, and conducting Randomized Control Trials (RTCs) can result in changing industry perception resulting in an outstanding safety record. Syed furthers the reader’s understanding with discussions explaining how businesses, governments, and institutions address failures but do not take responsibility. Essentially, stressing the crucial part of establishing a beneficial relationship with mistakes is largely ignored.
I will re-read many times I'm sure .
Matthew Syed blends Karl Popper's insights into the nature of science with a deep understanding of biological evolution, along with multiple lessons drawn from human psychology, sociology, history and politics — all into a single, nagging, marvellous insight: the critical role of learning from failure; the importance of trial, error, and responsive self-improvement.
There's more here than you might think. It's a powerful idea in a modest, understated package.
It's beautifully written; humane, and full of decency in these partisan and angry times; and also full of independently interesting narratives.
My key takeaway from reading this book is that Mr. Syed identifies a well-known flaw in humanity to which some critics at first blush might yawn and say “so what, nothing new here” Failure analysis has been around for centuries. Not exactly… this book covers a lot of ground. The Black Box failure analysis model has only been in use for a very limited amount of time in human history, yielding incredible results in aviation safety used for the benefit of all humanity. Yes, individuals throughout history have used versions of failure analysis to solve issues, either for themselves or for small scale issues. But this recent model transcends others in that it truly eliminates the need or benefit of lying, omitting information or tampering with evidence. By doing so, you only perpetuate a problem which could eventually end up costing you your life or the life of your loved ones. I spoke my friend who is a pilot and Lt. Col in the US Air Force about claims in this book and he confirmed the legitimacy and efficacy of the program, stating that US Military standards are slightly different than commercial aviation, but no doubt that you are immune to prosecution and encouraged to fully disclose information, which is solely used to improve safety for not only for the military, but for the greater good of all mankind. In my mind, that is what makes it unique.
If you were to tell a pilot in 1935 that in 2015, more pilgrims would die traveling on foot to Mecca (or being politically correct, Hajj 2015), then 3 billion passengers on commercial airplanes, travelling at 575 mph, taking off and landing in everything from thunderstorms and dense fog to snow, ice and gale force winds, sometimes even banking between skyscrapers on approach, they would have looked at you as though you were insane and told you to seek immediate psychological help. But those are the facts, made possible by human beings working together using this system and for the greater good of all.
Top reviews from other countries
I gave my daughter a long speech after reading this book as I feel its also good for resilience and not being afraid of making mistakes but embrace what you could learn from it.
Recommend this book to any and everyone!
There is much in here that businesses and government should learn from. Also applicable in many ways to personal endeavours
Well written and researched, interesting, compelling. One of my 2 Best non fiction books of the last 18 months.