Black Box Thinking

Black Box Thinking


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Nick's Review 


Matthew Syed's book explores how success is cultivated, with an emphasis on learning from mistakes and implementing marginal gains, creativity, and resilience. Through case studies and analyses, the book demonstrates how these techniques can give practitioners an edge in diverse, ever-evolving fields, such as sports, business, medicine, politics, and everyday living.


The book begins by discussing the various ways in which industries handle errors. It illustrates how a culture of negativity towards discussing mistakes has diverted our society away from their essential resolution.


Since its inception, the airline industry has made great strides in ensuring air travel is a dependable, safe endeavor. Syed credits this evolution to a new approach to errors, enabled by the presence of independent organizations such as the NTSB in the US, ATSB in Australia, and AAIB in the UK. These bodies analyze and report mistakes, without using the data for legal purposes, allowing the sector to learn and make changes to prevent flight mortality. As a result, air travel is now one of the most dependable industries worldwide.


Syed contrasts the airline industry with the medical sectors in the UK and US. He posits that, due to the severe repercussions that can follow any mistakes, doctors and nurses are often made into pariahs by the media and politicians. As a result, they are reluctant to admit errors and the system does not learn from them. He cites the Journal of Patient Safety which reports that 400,000 people in the US annually suffer preventable deaths due to medical error; it thus ranks the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.


Black Box Thinking dives deeper than a mere comparison of two industries and provides illuminating case studies on improved performance. It has been embraced by high-performing teams like Mercedes F1, Google, Team Sky and more. Even though the book is quite a few years old, its approach still reigns supreme and has been discussed widely. The Western Australian Government indeed might find the book especially useful in tackling existing issues with the WA Health system.