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Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed

Black Box Thinking is about the willingness and tenacity to investigate the lessons that often exist when we fail, but which we rarely exploit.

It is about creating systems and cultures that enable organizations to learn from errors, rather than being threatened by them.

Black Box Thinking: 10-point executive summary. 

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed

  • “A failure to learn from mistakes has been one of the single greatest obstacles to human progress
  • .”Success can only happen when we confront our mistakes
  • “It is partly because we are so willing to blame others for their mistakes that we are so keen to conceal our own. We anticipate, with remarkable clarity, how people will react, how they will point the finger, how little time they will take to put themselves in the tough, high-pressure situation in which the error occurred. The net effect is simple: it obliterates openness and spawns cover-ups. It destroys the vital information we need in order to learn.”
  • “Only by redefining failure will we unleash progress, creativity, and resilience.”
  • When people don’t interrogate errors, they sometimes don’t even know they have made one (even if they suspect they may have).”
  • “[Black Box Thinking] is about creating systems and cultures that enable organizations to learn from errors, rather than being threatened by them.”
  • “In effect, practice is about harnessing the benefits of learning from failure while reducing its cost. It is better to fail in practice in preparation for the big stage than on the big stage itself.”
  • “When we are confronted with evidence that challenges our deeply held beliefs we are more likely to reframe the evidence than we are to alter our beliefs. We simply invent new reasons, new justifications, new explanations. Sometimes we ignore the evidence altogether.”
  • “Cognitive dissonance occurs when mistakes are too threatening to admit to, so they are reframed or ignored. This can be thought of as the internal fear of failure: how we struggle to admit mistakes to ourselves.”
  • “Marginal gains is not about making small changes and hoping they fly. Rather, it is about breaking down a big problem into small parts in order to rigorously establish what works and what doesn’t.”

Article Sources

Black Box Thinking

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Samuel Davies

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