Black Box Thinking: Micro Review

Black Box Thinking is a great read on failure. Or how to learn from it. A string of failures. How to turn a string of failures into repetitive testing and translate that into a string of marginal gains.

Matthew Syed delves into many examples of failures across different fields, how failure is inevitable and how you can embrace it and learn from it.

The book reminded me of “Drift into Failure” by Sidney Dekker. The concepts are similar. Both of them talk about the complex world we live in today and how that makes it impossible to predict or analyze failures with Newtonian reductionist mindset.

With real life examples this book explores psychological aspects of dealing with failure as an individual and an organization and how we avoid, deny and fail to treat these failures as a teaching moment.

The book explores cognitive dissonance, complexity and blame culture and mindset that prevents us from looking at failure as a learning opportunity.

It also has recommendations on how we can embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and improve, use it to drive innovation and create a growth culture.

Overall a great read for anyone exploring organization change, fighting Taylorism and looking to innovate.

Some excerpts:

Defective systems create errors even when procedures are followed.

…error denial increases as you go up the pecking order.

You are not born with fear of failure, its not an instinct, its something that grows and develops in you as you grow older.

When an idea is served up from behind the scenes, the neural circuitry has been working on the problem for hours or days or years, consolidating information and trying out new combinations.

The six phases of a project — Enthusiasm, Disillusionment, Panic, Search for the guilty, Punishment of the innocent, Rewards for the uninvolved.

It is at the level of system that bottom up learning is vital because of the imperative of adaptability.

A pre mortem typically starts with the leader asking everyone in the team to imagine that the project has gone horribly wrong and to write down the reasons why on a piece of paper.

True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.