Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Black Box Thinking: Why Some People Never Learn from Their Mistakes - But Some Do

Rate this book
Nobody wants to fail. But in highly complex organizations, success can happen only when we confront our mistakes, learn from our own version of a black box, and create a climate where it’s safe to fail.
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.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published September 8, 2015

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Matthew Syed

73 books458 followers
Matthew Syed is an author and highly acclaimed speaker in the field of high performance. He has written six bestselling books on the subject of mindset and high performance – Rebel Ideas, Bounce, Black Box Thinking, The Greatest, and his celebrated children’s books, You Are Awesome and The You Are Awesome Journal – and has worked with many leading organisations to build a mindset of continuous improvement. He is also a multi-award-winning journalist for The Times and a regular contributor to television and radio. In his previous career, Matthew was the England table tennis number one for almost a decade.

Matthew’s work explores a thought-provoking approach to high performance in the context of a complex and fast-changing world. By understanding the intimate connection between mindset and high performance, organisations can unlock untapped potential in individuals and teams, driving innovation and agility to secure a future-proofed environment.

Matthew is also co-founder of Matthew Syed Consulting (MSC); the company has worked with an impressive portfolio of clients to build growth mindset cultures and drive higher performance in individuals, teams and organisations. Matthew Syed Consulting’s cutting-edge thought leadership programme and digital learning tools are becoming a catalyst for real and lasting change within business and the public sector.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
5,493 (48%)
4 stars
4,238 (37%)
3 stars
1,368 (11%)
2 stars
257 (2%)
1 star
59 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 947 reviews
Profile Image for Stephen.
520 reviews152 followers
December 22, 2017
This came highly recommended by the friend who lent me it but it seems to have taken me forever to finish it. The central point and some of the examples are interesting but to me it just said the same thing over and over again. Relieved to have finished it, to be honest !
Profile Image for Nancy.
903 reviews19 followers
April 28, 2016
What a great book! For a nonfiction, it would be remarkable easy to read for those who don't usually read nonfiction. It's filled with so many examples from so many industries that I can't even remember them all; from medicine, aviation, Unilever detergent nozzles, DreamWorks movies, law enforcement, vacuum cleaners, and even child welfare social workers.

The book tackles a number of important aspects of failure, such as the idea of complexity and how the world we live in is an immensely complex place making it difficult if not impossible to account for all variations and/or conditions. In order for the human brain to understand this complexity, we all use the narrative fallacy to simplify things so we can better understand. Another aspect of the situation is the need for marginal gains through repetitive testing, much like the evolutionary process. Marginal gains occur through bottom-up testing, as opposed to top-down analysis and planning which is what many of us do. We look at a problem, think about it, arrive at a logical solution, then apply the solution only to find it doesn't work for some unplanned for reason or due to complexity that we don't understand. Iterative testing instead will yield marginal gains with each iteration until the desired result is reached.

Blame is another very important aspect of failure. Professional athletes don't look back on years of practice as a string of failures. Practice is what drives improvement. In all things. When blame is assigned, it undermines openness and learning in a field. However, when the professional has an internal fear of failure (either due to the corporate climate where blame is assigned or whether it is tied to the ego due to years of experience or education), we sometimes can't even admit our mistakes to ourselves.

One of the most helpful ideas I discovered in this book is the idea of the pre-mortem. Prior to beginning a major project, assemble everyone together and assume the project has run its course and is now a huge embarrassing failure. What are some ways we could have prevented this outcome? How did the failure come about?

And my favorite tongue-in-cheek list in the entire book:
The 6 phases of a project
1. Enthusiasm
2. Disillusionment
3. Panic
4. Search for the guilty
5. Punishment of the innocent
6. Rewards for the uninvolved

Yup, that about sums it up.
Profile Image for Mario Tomic.
159 reviews310 followers
May 13, 2017
How do some learn from mistakes and become better while others never seem to improve? What if the problem is that no one has taught us how to deal with failure? This brilliant book reveals a framework for how to use mistakes as learning tools and transform short-term failures into long-term success. The book is full of engaging stories and interesting anecdotes on how the human psyche has the potential to deal with failure in a variety of ways. For me, one of the most interesting parts was the one on how the ego has the potential to make us completely oblivious to life-threatening mistakes happening right in front of our eyes. Becoming a "Black box thinker" will undoubtedly make you more successful in life. Overall, Matthew has nailed it once again! His previous book Bounce is one of my personal favorite personal development books. And as for Black Box Thinking, I highly recommend the book as it will give you powerful tools to deal with mistakes and make you a lot more aware of what's going in your mind and the minds of people around you in high-pressure situations.
Profile Image for Maddie Browse.
141 reviews1,901 followers
March 1, 2021
I don't rate non-fiction so here is a quick review!

The overall concept of this was really interesting, I especially enjoyed the focus on how mistakes are reported and acted upon to inform future events! The fact that in so many industries mistakes are hidden for fear of getting in trouble is terrifying, and I feel I also learnt from a personal development perspective that making mistakes and learning from them isn't a bad thing, but is in fact incredibly important and the quickest and easiest way to learn!

Overall I would recommend this, but I did feel that the last 100 pages or so got very repetitive and felt a little redundant! The same case studies were used repeatedly and not much extra value was being drawn from them at the end!
Profile Image for Vikash.
28 reviews18 followers
August 12, 2018
Once in a while there's a book that you can't keep down.
You're willing to know that what's next and you are amazed how much it relates to you. This Book is one such book.
The book is powerful enough to change the way you think of failure.
We all know that we should be learning from our failures but hardly it happens that we apply the learning.
This book explains with compelling stories that how we can learn from our failures and how is our life totally dependent on it.

Favorite Quote-“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

What's the best part about the book?
The structure of the book along with short stories is an absolute delight

Few actionable pointers from the book:-

1.Create a system from failures- You're going to fail and you are going to fail n a lot of things. But have a mindset of applying the lessons you learnt from failing to avoid the same failures again. It works on the principle Black box is used for in an Airplane. So that the same error is not repeated again.

2.Cognitive Dissonance- You can be your worst enemy if you're busy hiding your mistakes in your closet with a fear of shame. PLEASE accept your mistakes, stop hiding them, stop blaming others, that's the only way you can improve and grow.

3.The Beckhem effect:- We all know how great player David Beckhem was. He was shamed once early in his career, but despite of letting himself down from it he used his will power to overcome it. Always accept your failures and grow out of your ego to contribute for self growth. Be Beckhem.

Who is this book for?
It's for everyone Because we all will fail at some point or the other.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Cassandra Kay Silva.
704 reviews280 followers
February 14, 2021
I really liked the anecdotal stories in this book. They were fun and interesting. It also gave me a lot of food for thought on the way that large corporate organizations and complex structures are managed. Even in smaller areas we often talk about how people don't leave a workplace, they leave a manager- this idea is extrapolated further to understand how the broader company culture affects overall performance and output based on fear of reprimand vs reward of change. I really liked this approach, most of the content could have been summarised to a fairly singular point to this book but because the anecdotes were interesting I didn't mind so much that this was reiterated.
Profile Image for Samson Sunny.
52 reviews6 followers
February 26, 2018
In this book author says we have to give more importance to failures. We need to track the failure and note why and how we failed. This information will help us to improve the future steps that we are taking. Failing information is very important. All the innovation comes from many failures all successful people failed many times. It is not they are talented. They practised well and they took serious about their failure and they learnt from it.

This book giving so many examples that reduces the concentration. Author gave different different title but all titles having similar contents. If the book is shorter it would be very good. It is difficult to read all complete chapters. I just skimmed the content. Middle half of the book is very boring.

But anyhow the point is very clear. Learn from mistakes instead of sitting ideal and not doing anything.
Profile Image for Brian Johnson.
115 reviews242 followers
February 3, 2016
“In this book we will examine how we respond to failure, as individuals, as businesses, as societies. How do we deal with it, and learn from it? How do we react when something has gone wrong, whether because of a slip, a lapse, an error of commission or omission, or a collective failure…? …

The purpose of this book is to offer a radically different perspective. It will argue that we need to redefine our relationship with failure, as individuals, as organizations, and as societies. This is the most important step on the road to a high-performance revolution: increasing the speed of development in human activity and transforming those areas that have been left behind. Only by redefining failure will we unleash progress, creativity, and resilience.”

~ Matthew Syed from Black Box Thinking


Some of us lean into it and learn as much as we can from it, and some of us prefer to avoid thinking about it and/or pretend it never happened. As you may guess, one approach leads to dramatically better performance over the long run. (Hint: Seeing failure as feedback + learning opportunities is a very wise idea.)

This book is all about, as the sub-title suggests, “Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes—But Some Do.”

It’s a fascinating read. Matthew is a brilliant, award-winning writer who brings the wisdom to life via great story telling. (To put it in perspective, I read this and his other book Bounce in < 72 hours—Black Box on a Friday + a little bit of Saturday and Bounce on Sunday.)

The book is geared more toward high-level concepts and organizational applications than individual self-help per se, but it’s packed with Big Ideas:

1. Black Box Thinking - What is it?
2. 50 lbs for an A vs. Perfect piece of pottery.
3. Marginal Gains --> Extraordinary gains.
4. 2,003 + 50,000 = Beckham’s magic formula.
5. Cognitive Dissonance + Galileo.


Here's my video review:

And click here to find 250+ more of my reviews:

Profile Image for Sonny Recio.
22 reviews9 followers
August 21, 2016
Black box thinking starts by storytelling the undeniable mistakes in the healthcare sector, particularly with the case of Elaine Bromiley's. It appears that healthcare industry was not open to mistakes that are happening inside especially if the case was life-threatening because the whole industry encourages 0% mistakes since they're dealing with life itself. Any mistakes made will be costly and unforgivable. With this, the author clearly stated that mistakes are essential and responsible for the direct improvement, and I have no qualms for that. He goes on with other stories like unjust justice system which blames an innocent suspect, discovery of dropbox through failures and flaws of the business model of other companies, and so forth.

As I read this book, I also learned something that is related to our thinking biases, namely "cognitive bias" which affects the way we interpret failures which I haven't realized till then since we recreate or reframe the way we view failures which I will admit to myself as well.

It was good that the author did some further emphasis as why we really have to embrace failures and how to learn from it 100% of the time to minimize redundant failures along the way. In fact, I bought this book just for the very same reason to optimize my learnings when I fail. But it would have been made shorter. At some point, I got bored in lengthy history recaps that emphasize failure in the past. But what I like most about this book is the later part where he emphasized that failures or mistakes are a way of improving one's own creativity. At some point, it can lead us to create or innovate things, which I thought it's something I lack(creativity). I've been passionate in doing something creative for a long time, be it an art, a creative web design of the sorts. I didn't comprehend that failures are part of making your creation or creativity flourish and is applicable for creativity as well. That's where I appreciate this book for the better.

Overall, what was explained in this book is self-explanatory and can be realized with common sense as failure is really a way for us to learn. We all know that. Or maybe I just read lots of self-help books that I wasn't able to pick up lots of things from this book. But this is not to say this book is bad or unreadable at all. For beginners, you can learn a lot from this book. But for like me who reads a lot of self-help books and blogs every day, I think I only learn a little bit from this. But I'm still grateful I read this.
Profile Image for Aya  Youssef.
112 reviews186 followers
August 10, 2019
دعونا ننسى أخطاء الماضي ونعمل أخطاء جديدة :)
في الأسبوع ده قرأت كتاب Black Box Thinking وكانت بالنسبة لي أفكاره مألوفة إلى حد كبير لكن أظنها مهمة في مواجهة شبح الفشل اللي محتمل نقابله في كل خطوة.
أفكار عن الأخطاء وتكرارها في المجالات المختلفة وأنماط التعامل معاه ونتايجها.
هل ممكن تفادي الأخطاء بشكل نهائي؟
هل محتاجين نكون عندنا خطة شديدة الإحكام ونكون جاهزين بنسبة 100% قبل ما نقدم على عمل أي شيء؟
إيه التعريفات الممكنة للنجاح أو الإبداع؟
أسئلة كتير كان بالنسبة لي الفيديو ده هو وسيلة بلورة إجابتها وتذكير نفسي بيها بما إني شخص بيتعامل بحساسية مفرطة مع الأخطاء ومحتاجة المنظور المختلف اللي بيطرحه الكتاب ده.

November 7, 2018
First of all let me say that I’ve got misleaded by the title of the book. I had thought it was about analysing events, systems, history etc. when we do not know all the facts or details that have impact on the subject under analysis, i.e., learning to make conclusions when some things are “black boxes” to us. This is special important in Systems Engineering, where many components that require a lot of knowledge in an specific field interact together to accomplish a final purpose. You must be able to design a system to accomplish one purpose without knowing how a specific component of the whole in detail works.
However, the book is about something very different: it is about how mankind approaches errors and how we learn (or don’t learn) from them. The term “Black box” is referred to the blackbox present in airplanes, which is used to analyse errors, extract the “lessons learnt” from them, and apply counter-actions to avoid that error from happening again. The author uses the aircraft industry as the example of how errors should be approached, whereas he uses the health care and justice system as the two bad examples, where errors are hidden, overseen or just accepted as something unavoidable by principle.
The book brings up concepts like ‘Cognitive disonance’, the ‘Blame game’ or the ‘Narrative fallacy (Hindsight bias)” which explain the mankind psicology to avoid recognize errors or mentally modify the facts to please one’s convictions. Other terms and methods like ‘Pre-morten technique’, MVP (Minimum Viable Product, ‘lean start-up’) or RCT (Randomized Control Trial) were new to me and thus, I was able to deepen into them through the lecture.
The book is entertaining. Not too scientific, therefore ideal for general readers who want to get introduced to the topic: “why people repeat mistakes again and again and seem not to want to learn from them”. The author reinforces the thought that trying and learning from errors lead to the ‘Growth mindset’, opposite to the ‘Fixed mindset’.
Finally, I do not want to forget that I have bought this book in a book store in Oban, west highlands, Scotland in July 2018. Awesome trip to the Inner Hebrides.
Profile Image for Shinade.
24 reviews
January 16, 2022
I enjoyed how in-depth this book delved into different approaches to failure. My view of failure has definitely been challenged and broadened. The author used true stories and evidence to articulate his points which I thoroughly appreciated whilst reading as it gave me the opportunity to research these events for myself.
Profile Image for Chip Huyen.
Author 7 books3,166 followers
January 5, 2020
This book made me think of applying black box thinking to writing. Why can't we publish a MVP of a book and iterate on it?
Profile Image for Connie.
1,471 reviews24 followers
March 11, 2021
I borrowed this book off somebody.

I love self help, change your mindset kind of books, and that is what I had hoped this book was. While on one hand it did deliver, explaining that mindsets of failure aren't something we should be ashamed of, in fact should be reframed to promote success and improve performance, it also wasn't all what I thought it would be. Drawing on a LOT of examples, this book chose some particularly graphic and gruesome examples that really didn't sit well with me, and I won't repeat but just be aware this book does contain some triggering content, and I believe the authors points could have been equally highlighted with fewer examples and less graphic ones also. If this book was shorter, I may have enjoyed it more but alas.
Profile Image for Damaskcat.
1,782 reviews4 followers
February 2, 2017
I found this a totally fascinating and thought provoking read. It looks at a subject which we tend to try and avoid in the twenty first century - failure. The culture is to cover up failures and not talk about them or even think about them. The author uses examples from the airline industry, medicine, inventions and many other backgrounds - including the industrial revolution - to illustrate failures which can be very useful and instructive.

If you have had recent experience of a medical situation where mistakes were made then maybe this book should come with a warning as you could find some of the situations described uncomfortable. I almost gave up on the book in the first chapter because it reminded me of a personal experience but I persevered through that first chapter and found myself completely absorbed in the book.

Airlines and aviation generally has learned from its failures which is one of the main reasons why air travel is so safe. Failures are studied closely to try and establish ways of preventing them. People are encouraged to report failures so that situations can be addressed. The author explores failures in medicine which could have lead to constructive changes and opportunities for people to examine their behaviour . In medicine consultants are regarded as God and rarely challenged but to avoid problems medicine needs to change its culture so that failures are examined so that future failures can be prevented.

The author quotes some interesting examples from industry where a culture of reporting failures results in a much more relaxed and creative working environment when compared with an environment where failures are punished. He also quotes James Dyson and his thousands of prototypes for the original bag-less vacuum cleaner. The point being that you don't just invest something new - you have to make a lot of mistakes and have a lot of failures before you finally arrive at the finished product.

The idea that failure is part of life and you need failures in order to learn is an interesting one and it made me wonder if schools which don't allow people to fail aren't doing their students any favours. Failures and mistakes are part of life and need to be treated constructively.
Profile Image for tree_high_adiustuje.
128 reviews19 followers
October 30, 2022
Publikacja z misją.

Połączenie doskonałego thrilleru z fascynującą analizą psychologiczną, socjologiczną, ekonomiczną, filozoficzną etc., od której nie sposób się oderwać.

Zawartość jeży włosy na głowie, niosąc grozę, ale przede wszystkim wszelkimi sposobami i narzędziami promuje największy lifehack w historii człowieka. Lifehack, przed którym niestety uchyla się większość z nas - naukę na błędach.

Naprawdę ważna książka absolwenta politologii, ekonomii i filozofii Cambridge, któremu my wszyscy nie jesteśmy obojętni. Wchodzi do mojej czołówki lektur wszechczasów.

"W 2013 roku odbyło się 36,4 miliona lotów komercyjnych, z których skorzystało ponad 3 miliardy pasażerów. Zginęło w nich tylko 210
osób. W samych Stanach Zjednoczonych w wyniku możliwych do uniknięcia błędów lekarze codziennie
rozbijają dwa jumbo jety pełne pacjentów".

"Gdy przedstawia się nam dowody przeczące naszym najgłębiej zakorzenionym przekonaniom, częściej
przeformułowujemy znaczenie dowodów,
niż zmieniamy punkt widzenia. Wymyślamy nowe powody, usprawiedliwienia
wyjaśnienia. Czasami po prostu ignorujemy fakty".

"Rządzenie państwami odbywa się w oparciu o opowieści, przeczucia,
niesprawdzone ideologie i dane obserwacyjne, często zmanipulowane tak, żeby pasowały do sformułowanych wcześniej wniosków".

"Nasze rozumowanie w kwestiach społecznych przeczy logice. Uważamy
argumenty za bardziej przekonujące, kiedy nie powołują się na twarde dowody. Podziwiamy siłę przekonań, czyli zwykle po prostu intuicję. Taka pogarda dla wiedzy przywodzi na myśl czasy, kiedy człowiek
jeszcze nie uprawiał nauki".
Profile Image for Jakub Dembiński.
67 reviews2 followers
May 5, 2022
Wspaniała książka! W książce poruszonych jest wiele ważnych aspektów porażki i występujących w życiu błędów. Mamy rozwiniętą koncepcję złożoności świata i naszego upraszczania, obwinianie innych za popełnione błędy, czy próby rozwiązania problemów z góry założonym pomysłem zamiast testowania i iteracji wynalazków.

Jest pełna przykładów z wielu różnych branż (medycznej, filmowej, policyjnej czy nawet urządzeń domowych jak odkurzacze Dyson). Wszystko porównywane jest do branży lotniczej, gdzie występuje zupełnie inne myślenie o porażce. W lotnictwie każdy stara się wyciągnąć z błędu jak najwięcej nauki oraz dotrzeć z tymi informacjami do jak największej liczby osób w branży.

Świetnie pokazuje psychologiczne zawiłości naszego mózgu oraz jak potrafimy naginać rzeczywistość, bo nie chcemy przyznać się do błędu nawet przed sobą samym!
Profile Image for Nukes.
36 reviews3 followers
April 6, 2017
It is hereby truthfully resolved by yours truly that he shall no longer fear actualising failure. He shall henceforth embrace failure as a learning tool by recording all the actions, in-actions and inertias in a personal blackbox. The blackbox shall reviewed without fear or favour. Hard questions shall be asked when results are below par.
No longer shall he wait for the perfect product. Instead the prototype shall be launched as per the deadline as is where is. Iteration as a process is henceforth the preferred method of solving problems.
I resolve that sneers, giggles, and mirth from my readers are all the same; positive feedback.
I can write more about this book. I can write better about this book. But I need the time to read another book as good this one.
So I will click save.
Profile Image for Yernar.
74 reviews1 follower
October 19, 2020
My last three years' books were so average that i didn't even want to mention them here. Black Box thinking encouraged me to restore my goodreads account and rate it.
The main idea of the book is about learning from failures and ideas might be similar with Growth Mindset by Dweck. However, the design and the way how the topic is introduced and developed is just great. MUST-READ book!
Profile Image for Anthony.
109 reviews3 followers
February 6, 2017
Marvellously easy to read. The story of the BA pilot will break your heart. Really good ideas and well articulated
Profile Image for Temuujin Nyamdavaa.
46 reviews8 followers
March 8, 2017
Black Box Thinking is an unique book about failure as well as how to make use of mistake to bounce back from adversity. Matthew Syed, who also wrote another bestseller Bounce, which I haven’t yet read, offered us totally different view of failure and success with his work. To be honest, before reading this book, I reckon that failure is uncomfortable situation that should be avoided. But, now I have a totally different insight into it. The book starts with a totally new perspective about failure. To make it clearer, the author tours readers through the process of two most responsible industries in the world and how they both react when it comes to failure. Both are considered as significant and responsible fields because they both deal with human life. Though both are assumed as responsible due to such aforementioned thing, totally different results are presented. In health care, failure and its misconceptions are everywhere following cover-ups. For individuals in healthcare, talent is favoured. In aviation, failure is now rare and seen as a learning opportunity. People in aviation think that talent is not enough and favours persistent. The author tries to re-formulate a conception of failure based on the two different perception of error in aviation and healthcare throughout book. It seems to me that the author successfully tells us that the combination of right mindset of failure and right system for turning failure into success is the secret of high performance. Before this book, I read another book titled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success written by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. The book also deals with the conception of failure and argues that growth mindset plays in important, perhaps the most important role, in individual’s development. Black Box Thinking also continues to stick with this argument and defend the importance of failure. Personally, I can’t tell that Matthew Syed and Carol Dweck are both right at this moment. But, circumstances and experiences I have had recently seems to confirms its validity. Having an example of profession is also down-to-earth to me, as a reader. It undoubtedly gives me a moment to reflect my own belief having to do with mistake as well as related to my profession. One particular thing I learned as well as experienced after reading this book is that testing our assumptions, seeing their flaws and learning from them. In chapter 3, the strangest thing about success is that it is built upon failure. When confronting the moment of failure, as the part 2 of this book tells, we tend to pose symptoms of denial, convictions, and blame. Instead, we should test first and have an expectation to learn from it. We sometimes carry the fallacy of perfectionism and fear failure when attempting something new. But, providing we have a bottom to up approach, it is possible to learn from the fall and come up with solutions to problems. Another interesting topic concerned success is the notion of marginal gains in chapter 9. Sir David Brailsford, who started the dominance of British cycling after he became a general manager of his country’s team, became an exemplar of how marginal gain can have big impact in high performance rather than sole big defining change. Small changes in every area of our life doesn’t make a difference at a time, however, add over the long term. Everything related to our certain goal could improve by only 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable achievement. With deep analysis of failure and success as well as some insightful and practical systems towards success, Matthew Syed managed to convey his secrets weapons towards success in life.
Profile Image for An Te.
385 reviews25 followers
June 20, 2016
This is a compelling book. It is assumed in this book that errors just occur and are a natural part of life and its concomitant complexities. Its main thrust concerns the articulation of two different cultures in dealing with this complexity. The first is the shut down of all inquiry and learning through pre-emptive blame. The second is the just culture of thorough investigations into the underlying factors that have contributed to the error that established a learning culture and growth mindset that responds to negative experiences with an attitude willing to learn and adapt accordingly. The justice systems, systems engineering, aviation, healthcare and the personal approaches to learning of prominent sportspeople and software start-ups are drawn on making this book engaging for a general readership.

My personal interest for reading this book has been, primarily, for the healthcare component. I have been moved to explore the area of human factors, ergonomics and organisational culture which is of pertinence to my early career research. I am very glad I have read this book as it has enabled me to understand some of the shifts in attitudes and values that are needed in the healthcare industry. I have an understanding of the theory. It's quite another thing changing the culture. I am certainly and less concerned about the direction in which healthcare now needs to move. And so with this clarity attained, I would like to resolutely affirm and recommend this book to a general readership and to those interested in organisational culture, innovation and learning.
Profile Image for LaMarr D.
6 reviews3 followers
May 2, 2016
"Black Box Thinking" is phenomenal! It forces you to think deeply about the decisions you have made personally and professionally – and more importantly, the failures as a result of those decisions. No matter if you are an employee or an entrepreneur, the book also compels you to think about how your company makes its decisions and how things can be improved in your work environment. The way we have been conditioned and taught to view failure is wrong and, in Syed’s view, we should embrace failure as an opportunity to improve versus using failure to blame someone. Going forward, this perspective will be something I use in all areas of my life. That sounds simple, but this book illustrates how powerful a simple change in thinking can produce extraordinary outcomes, both good and bad.

“Black Box Thinking” should be required reading for anyone seeking to grow personally and professionally. The author did a great job of weaving historical examples from the aviation, healthcare, and sports industries to support each point made throughout the book. An excellent feature! It was a perfect read and I will be reading it again in the future, for sure.
Profile Image for Cindy.
140 reviews2 followers
May 13, 2019
If you are looking for a warm and fuzzy book with step by step instructions on how to learn from your mistakes this isn’t the book for you.

I will admit - that is what I came into the book expecting.

What I got was SO much more.

Riddled with real life stories, examples and scientific evidence this book really breaks down the psychological issues and games we play not only as individuals but as organizations to avoid, deny and even penalize failure and how much it hurts us to do so.

I love the real world examples and stories and it was fun to learn about the grit some people have had that have led them to the success they have achieved like David Beckham and James Dyson.

I’m left with 3 big takeaways:

1. Don’t just avoid failure. Embrace it. Use it as a tool to improve your skills, mindset and life.

2. Avoid hospitals as much as possible (unless you live in Seattle as I do and can go to Virginia Mason 😂🙈)

3. Go buy a Dyson vacuum cleaner ASAP. 🤪
Profile Image for Ardon Pillay.
141 reviews18 followers
March 27, 2020
“A good pilot always evaluates what’s happened, so that he can apply what’s learned”

The words of Viper from Top Gun ring quite strongly after a read of this book. It’s a very well weighted consideration of why we take failure at face value as a bad thing, and sometimes even ignore it, out of a need to delude ourselves into thinking that we are as good as we think we are.

Syed argues that acknowledging failure is the right way to go; after all, even with the cleverest people on the planet, every possibility can not be anticipated - so failures are inevitable. The optimum strategy is to be as pragmatic as possible with failures, like in aviation, where failures are published so the community can collectively learn from them.

Nearly every field can learn from this approach, after all, it does offer some impressive returns, as seen in so many different contexts, from hospitals which adopted the approach, to maximising success in business.
29 reviews
August 14, 2020
This book is about how we can learn from failure and improve. It’s a shame that this book didn’t use that principal. It could have been shorter, more focused and less repetitive. It was extremely male centric and used almost exclusively male examples. It didn’t look at male ego as a barrier to admitting failure but when mentioning “surgeons” I didn’t get the feeling that included women. There was lots of moaning about doctors not learning from mistakes which is a shame as it propagates a singular, misinformed viewpoint. It does have some merit in bringing up examples of success built on failure that were less familiar but it was overly detailed. I didn’t need to know every free kick that David Beckham scored in a major tournament. In a nutshell, about 5 or 6 useful pointers but hard work to get to them.
3 reviews
November 9, 2020
Absolutely loved this book. Key takeaways:
0. Don't be a victim of Cognitive Dissonance.
1. Embrace failure, find out what went wrong, establish guidelines for future = Progress/Success!
2. Fail quickly, tweak and experiment again - Iterative bottoms-up approach is way better than top-down approach!
3. Culture of accountability and trust - Growth mindset.
4. Punish the WRONG intent not the experiment going wrong.
5. Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) - Test the assumptions. Keep it RANDOM. Do not introduce bias of any sort.
6. Be like the airline industry - Every incident, no matter how big or small, is reported, recorded, documented, analyzed to make the future more secure!
7. Power of Grit and Perseverance!!
Profile Image for CriminOlly.
Author 21 books589 followers
January 12, 2020
I’ve read a few books like this lately, partly because there is a crossover with my day job, but mostly because I like ideas. This was definitely the best. It’s an extremely well written and engrossing examination of a simple concept, that failure is valuable because it helps us get better. Unlike some other similar books it never felt like it outlived it’s welcome. The examples used to illustrate the point were well chosen and often grippingly relayed. I was surprised at what a page turner ‘Black Box Thinking’ could be, and also that it moved me deeply at times.
In summary then, this is intellectually stimulating, great fun to read and full of insight. I loved it.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 947 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.