Black Box Thinking: What I learnt.
Updated: Nov 4, 2020
A list of 15 things I took out of Matthew Syed's book, Black Box Thinking.
This book, written by Matthew Syed was a present from someone, so I went into reading it with little knowledge of the author or expectation. After completing this book, I can say, I quickly went onto purchase another of Matthew’s book (The Greatest — yet to read). Let’s just say, the book and Matthew, completing transformed my perspective. So I thought, I would write about the learnings I have taken out of this book.
15 Take Outs
Transferable knowledge — how most industries, if they are open to it, can learn lots from others. Taking transferable information and processes and applying it in their own fields. Makes me think about getting out of my bubble, and speaking with successful people/companies in different industries to understand what processes they use, to help me better improve my work.
The power of food — one example in the book talks about how prisoners who were being assessed by a judge, who had just eaten breakfast, had a 65% chance of getting parole. As the morning went on, this percentage dropped dramatically. Only after the judges had taken a break and eaten, did the percentages shoot back up.
Egos are roadblocks — another point I picked up during reading this book, was that an individual or organisation’s ego can get in the way or learning, but also the truth.
Fail, fail, and fail again — one of the biggest learnings Syed highlights is the power of failing. Yes we have all heard about the newest entrepreneur who has a story of failure, but Syed presented an example of how biologists failed (tested) again and again to find the correct answer.
A failing culture — it’s important to create an environment and culture where people are not afraid to fail to drive success. It’s about creating a ongoing process of trial and error and giving opportunities to fail more often. As Michael Jordan said, ‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’
Trying to find perfect — so many are so obsessed with finding perfection, they never even get out on the court. Trying to find perfection surely has to be one of the biggest factors in why people don’t ‘make it’. Test rather than talk.
Evaluating good looking data — when data is presented, it can paint whatever picture the person presenting it, wants it to paint. Syed talks about an example called ‘Scared Straight’, he highlights the importance of evaluating data, to ensure it doesn’t just paint the picture you want it to paint.
Marginal gains — associated with Team Sky’s Dave Brailsford — how can we apply this approach to our everyday lines, how can we make tiny gains throughout the day to make us that much better than our yesterday’s self? How do we aid better sleep, better diet, better knowledge?
There are no bad ideas — Syed talks about how one study looked at three groups trying to come up with ideas; one group were actively encouraged to point out the flaws in each other’s ideas, another group were told to brainstorm and were asked not to be negative towards others’ ideas and the third group were given no instructions. Results showed that the group who discussed the flaws in each others’ ideas generated 25% more ideas. The overall finding points out that, the more that ideas are debated and even criticised, the more likely it is to stimulate more creative ideas.
Being first doesn’t always mean winning — there will be many people who come up with an idea before someone else has it, but discipline will decide who wins the race.
Culture built on trust — to avoid the blame game, ensure the culture is built on trust. Trust so people can feel ok about saying yes I made a mistake, and trust so that people know not to take the biscuit.
Lead from the front — a leader who is there for their team, respects them and is seen as one of them, will most likely be known as a superb leader.
The power of learning — I really enjoyed this quote from Karl Popper, and felt it was worthwhile pulling it out, ‘True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.’
Engaging with our errors — having a growth mindset, allows us to be open to learning and to our failings. As Syed said, ‘We progress fastest when we face up to failure and learn from it.’
Pre-mortem — might sound a little negative, but try and look at your upcoming work or campaign, and get everyone to imagine its gone wrong, and get them to write down the reasons why. This will highlight any gaps that need to be filled before the launch.