Book Review: “Black Box Thinking” by Matthew Syed

Black-Box-ThinkingNo book captures the essence of what Escape From Ignorance is all about like Black Box Thinking. This is a book that should be required reading in High School, if not sooner. It is based on the simple idea that any person or enterprise must have a systemic way of learning from failure in order to improve or advance in any meaningful way.

The shocking, unnerving, horrifying thing about this book is the light it shines on just how many critical industries do not heed this valuable lesson. Our culture has sadly developed a chronic fear of failure, leading authority figures in a variety of professions to instinctively shun, deny, cover up, transfer, or excuse any sign of failure.

The one industry Syed highlights as a shining example of how to do it right is airline safety.  The fact that airline companies and consumers have so very much to lose when things go wrong means that enormous expense is sunk into learning everything they can from every crash. More importantly, there is a worldwide network of safety specialists who work in tight coordination to both uphold existing standards and quickly update standards to reflect new data.

You would expect this kind of methodology to be applied to the medical industry…since it literally holds our lives in their hands just like airplanes do.  This book exposes the painful truth that many doctors and hospitals operate with shockingly high unnecessary death rates stemming from a lack of standard protocols for learning from mistakes.

This book is a riveting and unsettling read that will change the way you look at the world and many of its trusted institutions. Yet it also offers a shining beacon of hope for what we can achieve when we work together to build off our collective errors. Anyone in a management role owns it to themselves, their businesses, and their customers to read this book and carefully consider the lessons it offer. The only alternative is to keep stumbling around in ignorance.

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