Dealing with Failure: Black Box Thinking

You make mistakes. I make mistakes. We all do. In the book Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth about Success (And Why Some People Never Learn from Mistakes), author Matthew Syed suggests the only difference between us with our success is how we respond to our mistakes. 

Syed chose the title because of the way the airline industry treats failures. Their philosophy is to find the truth of any and all failures and learn from them. That is why they have two black boxes (a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder) to collect data if there is an incident — so they can understand exactly what happened and put procedures in place so it will not happen again. 

The book explores ways to be successful through changing your perspective about failure: By admitting mistakes, lose the shame and pain associated it, then build, learn and improve from the feedback that failure gives you.

Syed has stated the purpose of the book is to offer a radically different perspective on failure. He wanted to redefine the relationship we have with it. He feels that success can only be achieved when we admit our mistakes, learn from them and create a climate where it is safe to fail. 

He details empirical research, case studies and examples from many different industries and individuals about ways failure has been faced. He goes on to share enlightened ideas about how to be successful — not despite our failures but because of them. 

There are two big takeaways from this book. First is the importance that you have to have a growth mindset toward mistakes. It is about being able to see failure in a clear-eyed way, not judgmental, but as a learning opportunity. 

The second is that it’s crucial to understand that blame is counterproductive to having a growth mindset toward failure. Blame does nothing but project fault onto someone else instead of using the mistake to learn from. Syed cited a study that found executives believed that only two to five percent of failures were truly blameworthy. Still, executives feel that blame was placed on failures 70 to 90 percent of the time. 

This book was written for those individuals and managers who want themselves and their organizations to be successful. This book is a wealth of knowledge about our view of failures, suggestions to change that perception and allowing these failures to help us learn and improve. 


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