Black Box Thinking

I really enjoy it when I find a book that makes me rethink my views and this book certainly did that. Although it was challenging it also resonated well with some other recent reading and thinking. Matthew Syed starts by comparing the approach to mistakes in the health and aviation sectors.

When set ou418EaqGdpsL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_t so starkly as he does, it is quite a frightening comparison. Where one is very open it results in international learning which benefits all and reduces accident rates significantly. In the other there is a reluctance to acknowledge mistakes which prevents learning. Matthew then goes on to demonstrate that our attitude to “failures” can have a profound impact on our ability to learning in a number of situations. This applies to us as individuals and also at an organisational level.

He shows that sometimes counter intuitive  management approaches can have a significant impact on how employees deal with mistakes and the extent to which this can allow or inhibit continuous improvement. At a personal level he challenged me to rethink how some of my attitudes and behaviours might be preventing me and my colleagues from sharing and learning from when things don’t go as we expect them to. He explained how some of our natural thinking biases can get in the way of this learning and how we can deal with them.

Perhaps one of the most worrying revelations is the extent to which UK national policy is now being driven by policy with a lack of openness to learning from experience. A quote about previous governments running too many pilots felt ludicrous in this context. He demonstrated several examples of where significant improvements actually resulted from earlier failures and how encouraging experimentation (with an open acceptance of failures) could result in better outcomes  being achieved more quickly.

I was particularly intrigued by the concept of a “pre-mortem” to learn from failure before it happens and hope to try out this technique at some stage in the future with colleagues. I’m also interested in whether this could be a useful and fun addition to our risk management approaches.

This book really encouraged me to take a more open approach to when things don’t go quite as planned to ensure that we all learn as much a possible from the experience and avoid repeating any mistakes again.

It is definitely one of my best reads of 2015 and I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in learning. Please let me know what you think of it, when you’ve read it.


About Sean Kent

Accountant and non-executive director based in Norfolk. Interests include coaching, food, wine and technology.
This entry was posted in Book Review and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s