In his book “Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn From Their Mistakes—But Some Do”, Matthew Syed makes a compelling case for failure as a rich opportunity to learn. He cites examples across industries where time after time failures have guided the next iteration and then the next and the next until success was achieved. For example, James Dyson tallied up 5,127 prototypes before getting to the Cyclone. Syed also notes the resilience needed to persevere.
The culture and mindset in organizations shape how individuals and teams relate to mistakes and failures. Syed gives so many great examples of organizations that create an openness in which people do not hide failures and mistakes but are encouraged to learn from them and share that learning with others in the system. He cites evidence and statistics that demonstrate how performance improves when people do not hide mistakes and failures and how performance deteriorates and, in fact, mistakes and failures increase in environments where people fear what will happen if they fail.
Black Box Thinking Isn’t Just for Airlines
The airline industry has been especially progressive in its pursuit of an environment in which failures are studied for what can be learned to improve safety and quality. Syed proposes that in all areas of human activity, we can benefit from adopting that same approach. We can apply Black Box Thinking and learn from failures.
He helps us understand dynamics that get in the way of learning from failure even when facts and evidence are readily available and point to moving in a different direction. Complexity, cognitive dissonance, and narrative fallacy are just a few of the dynamics that he demystifies. Understanding the influence and impact of these dynamics and others expands our access to redefining failure.
Redefining failure has the possibility of transforming so many aspects of our lives. This book can put you on that pathway.