Black Box Thinking

I loved Bounce so have been anticipating this with some excitement. Matthew Syed undertakes all the research so we can just sit back and learn it all by reading his books.

Bounce took the idea that just about anyone can be good at pretty much anything, it just takes practice. My take on Black Box Thinking puts out the idea that if more of us learnt from mistakes, the world would be a safer, better place.

Having been to the authors promotional event at the local Waterstones, I was warned about the heart-breaking opening story about Elaine Bromiley, a healthy lady dying on the operating table during a routine operation.

The author asks who in the audience was interested in sports, education or teaching? Whilst I have an interest in all three, my category – business – wasn’t mentioned. Being a fan-girl, I just turned up and bought the book on the day. There are always a few avid readers who go to these things armed with questions. I’m not one of those.

This is how I learnt what this book was about and it is indeed entirely relevant to my world. 

A good summary of Black Box Thinking is that whereas in the aviation industry, they immediately look for evidence as to why the accident happened and how they can do better next time, saving untold lives, the medical profession, in the main fails to learn from it's mistakes.

In an American study, a million people are said to be injured by hospital errors. 120,000 each year. A later 2013 study puts figure at 400,000. This is the equivalent of a 9/11 catastrophe happening every 2 months.

We wouldn’t tolerate this in any other area of preventable harm.

In the UK, 34,000 are killed due to human error.

In aviation, independent investigators immediately find out what went wrong, how to fix it and then share that openly with the world. Every pilot has access to the data. Syed says soon we won't need black box as all the info will have been already transmitted to a central database while the accident is happening. 

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.

Sullenberger, who landed the plane in the Hudson River (while I was living in just up the road in New York, incidentally) credited all the lessons learnt from aviation deaths to his safe landing. 

The Toyota Production System (TPS) was put in place so if anyone on the car production line had a problem, they pull a cord which halts production. The error is assessed, lessons learnt and the system adapted. Try putting that into health service where mistakes are frowned upon & people are too scared to report their seniors, which is why the preventable death in the opening paragraph occurred.

30-60000 deaths in USA are due to central line infections (catheter placement) 

A healthcare organisation in America, Virginia Mason tried to put into place Patient Safety Alerts in 2002 but no one would report the errors. After the next death,  their boss issued a public, heartfelt apology. Complaints started coming in and it’s now one of the safest hospitals in the world and they saved 75% in insurance premiums too.

Pronovost (who wrote Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals) instituted 5 point check list and saved 1500 lives. Plus c $100m over 18 months in Michigan.

To really bring it home, I learn it took 264 years to put a preventative measure for scurvy in place.

So that others may learn, and even more may live - Martin Bromiley, husband of Elaine and campaigner.

More BlackBoxThinking business learnings here. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts to share, please contact me via @RickieWrites


Top 10 Free Online Tools for Business

The top 10 must-have tools, that make my (business) life easier. 

 For creating attention grabbing email alerts (newsletters)

 For creating attention grabbing email alerts (newsletters)

Somehow nothing has come to rival this social media management platform that enables you to handle Twitter, Facebook & more

Somehow nothing has come to rival this social media management platform that enables you to handle Twitter, Facebook & more

Effortlessly keeps all your notes and ideas synced to all devices

Effortlessly keeps all your notes and ideas synced to all devices

Keep all your documents backed up & share large documents

Keep all your documents backed up & share large documents

Create collages or transform your photos

Create collages or transform your photos

Design for non-designers: flyers, business cards & online content

Design for non-designers: flyers, business cards & online content

Twitter: the simple social media platform for sharing & engaging

Twitter: the simple social media platform for sharing & engaging

Perfect for project planning & easy for those used to using pen & paper

Perfect for project planning & easy for those used to using pen & paper

Uploads your receipts & easily create invoices

Uploads your receipts & easily create invoices

Email platforms that allow you to use professional email addresses

Email platforms that allow you to use professional email addresses

Worth mentioning a couple paid for services:

Buy domain & professional email addresses

Buy domain & professional email addresses

Website designing for non-technical people. No coding, just drag and drop. I use it to create websites for clients - oh, and  this one!

Website designing for non-technical people. No coding, just drag and drop. I use it to create websites for clients - oh, and this one!

Is the email dead?

And other learnings from the Internet Retail Expo 2016

75% of people admit to using their phone on the toilet

75% of people admit to using their phone on the toilet

A highlight of my year is when I go and learn about the latest methods, technologies and trends at the Internet Retail Expo. As you may know from my tweets, it is the only business event I attend all year, other than the ones I host each month of course (Likemind and Jelly). Once again, there were some outstanding sessions delivered by experts who work with some of the UK's best known retailers. I learn so much to share with clients.

How to speak to your customers on the toilet

For me, this session won the best title of the event! Lead by M&S, who say 75% of people admit to using their phone in the loo. For some, that's the only time to catch up on communications! Schuh maintain that 89% of people with a smart phone, only shop on that device.
Email is still king. Despite engagement on social media, it is the preferred of communication for customers. It's where people expect you to be.

Who is building apps now?

A session by My Supermarket gave the insight that 63% of people just look at the website on their phone, rather than an app. 
Although 29% of the country still doesn't have a smartphone, in another session, Schuh highlighted the importance of getting the mobile site as good as the desktop version.
I know that on many platforms, the mobile site is automatically formatted, including Squarespace, which I use to create easy to maintain websites for clients.

Powerfully connect with clients

How long do you spend scanning content on your phone?
Facebook say it's 1.7 seconds. That's all the time we have to get our message across, hence organisations are now making short 2-3 second films just to get their brand recognised. This is easy for the makers amongst us and with a little thought, we can create this for every service too. It makes sense to have them without sound.

Also, I learnt why the search button is more important than ever, the latest on marketplaces (Ebay/Amazon) and payment methods and how Sparks helped M&S Customers shop twice as often. Find out about next year's event here.


To learn how to apply my insights to your business, or discuss how to promote your enterprise more effectively, do drop me a line or get an idea of some of the topic ideas here.



Book: Leadership by Alex Ferguson and Michael Moritz

My job was to make everyone understand the impossible was possible.     That’s the difference between leadership and management.    Alex Ferguson

My job was to make everyone understand the impossible was possible. That’s the difference between leadership and management. Alex Ferguson

 You cannot lead by following… Michael Moritz

No chasing of money. Provide excellence in everything you do, the money will come in…Alex Ferguson


I don’t read many business books. In fact, I don’t read any these days. I stopped that habit long ago as I didn’t learn anything new to what Dale Carnegie taught me three decades ago. (His ‘How to Win Friends… is still the best and read again every few years). My regular reader will know I have read my fair share of sports biographies as I relate the ‘being the best I can be’ attitude these people tend to have in order to be at the top of their game.

So Sir Alex Ferguson sits way up above those at the top of their game.

Just as I finished reading this tomb, I was running a workshop and mentioned I’d just completed the second best book ever. They waited until I breathlessly and without a gap relayed some of my learnings before asking, ‘what was the best one?’


As I learnt from a Sue Barker wall chart as a child, we can never rely on our opponent to make mistakes in order to win. SAF says the way to win is by attacking and over-running the opposing side.

On research: time spent in research is never wasted.

On networking: You have to make everyone feel at home, and that they belong. He’s been influenced by Marks & Spencer, who decades ago in harder times, gave their staff free lunches because some of them were skipping lunch to save money and help their families.

On failing: The only time to give up is when you are dead – already a favourite and chimes with my ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ Bon Jovi mantra.

You don't have to love the team, you have to respect individuals abilities.

SAF accepted anxiety as ‘part of the job and it if it disappeared, that would be the warning sign that I wasn’t up to the job.’

We had a virus that infected everyone. It’s called winning.

I’m unsure if this is true now in the days of flexible working but I see what he means when talking about football: ‘nobody wants a top performer who can only work 3 days a week.’

I’m keen to use the right words as I know the affect they have on people. When you say to people they look miserable, they will feel sad, similarly fat, ill, under nourished etc. SAF talks of refusing to tell players they look tired for the same reason. Instead he will say “you’re so strong, nobody is ever going to be able to keep up with you.”

On confidentiality: he has a small group of confidents, because it takes years to build these relationships. SAF calls it the ‘inner circle too’. I have an inner–circle – will drop everything and do anything for me and the outer-circle – the same but more build of business friends. He quotes his father ‘you only need six people to carry your coffin’.


From Michael Moritz after studying SAF for years:

The great leader will embrace audacity and the unthinkable, will not shirk from making controversial and unpopular decisions, and will have unshakeable confidence in his convictions.

 He will understand that others in the organisation capable of doing things that he himself cannot do or would not do as well.

He will derive more satisfaction from the achievements of his organisation than from his own accomplishments, will not demand outlandish compensation for himself, will treat the organisation’s, money as it were his own and will have no particular need to be singled out by the spotlight.

He will probably watch and listen more than he talks, will not radiate anxiety when the chips are down, will have a keen understanding of what he doesn’t know and a fetching sense of humility.

If he does his job well, people will see him as being tough but fair.

He will definitely not feel the need to be universally loved.

If you know any manager working in your local council with the above attributes, can you introduce them to me please?

I see many people in positions of responsibility who’s only purpose seems to be not lose their power. This is described as ‘having achieved the position he has sought for many years, he will concentrate on making sure that nothing goes wrong on his watch, will be wary about offending others, will shy away from making difficult decisions, will be at ease with the imperfections of compromise, will allow his strategy to be dictated by others, will find refuge in appeasement and court the affection of those around him.’

Moritz writes about SAF knowing how to extract the extra 5% - the difference between silver and gold. I could have copied all 38 pages of the epilogue here as it’s the most excellent summary of leadership I have seen.

 He final point from Moritz: great leaders are competing – not with others – but with the idea of perfection itself. For them, greatness is just never good enough.


We are all social enterprises

I came across the book Impact: 6 Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation by Al Etmanski while in Vancouver earlier this year. In fact I was fortunate to able to attend the book’s unlaunch event which ensured my trip started on a high.

It’s called an unlaunch I imagined, as rather than a traditional book event, Al bought in five guests who can demonstrated their own ways of making impact on Planet Earth. The rock stars of the social innovation world! 

I love the term ‘making impact’. I’ve only just started hearing people in Vancouver (Canada?) using the term ‘social enterprise’, a phrase that has never rocked my world. I believe every business – every human being – has a duty to help the next person and a badge to say that we are that way inclined is unnecessary. Indeed, many of the best social businesses are not official – they just quietly do good things for the community or environment.

So, back to the unlaunch event, I’m a hard one to inspire – I’ve been on the planet for so long that it’s rare for me to hear a new idea - I scour books/articles/events to keep trying! But I was inspired at Impact 6 and glad to have a copy of the book to continue to refresh my learning. 

There is an early reminder that every small thing I do can grow and have a worthwhile impact and this is what stays with me. Each one of us can have an impact. By doing the smallest thing, that gets repeated by others, we can indeed change the world. Read on....*

Social Innovation is both a destination and a journey

The book focusses on the two years Al undertook with his wife Vicky to explore social innovation. They made many friends along the way but as important, they changed the their approach to their social innovation work. They’d received ‘an advanced course in letting it go’.

Al and Vicky co-founded PLAN in 1989, which describes itself as a ‘social enterprise that doesn’t rely on government grants’. This is a refreshing change from organisations that call themselves social enterprises in the UK who’s first port of call these days seems to be ‘what can we get for free?’. As someone who has been self-employed for over ten years, applying for ‘funding’ or ‘grants’ does not make an enterprise by any stretch of the imagination.

I enjoyed hearing the phrase ‘passionate amateurs’ at the event too; people who are constantly working to make things better.  Indeed, there are two purposes to being human; to love and to create.

Pop the oxygen mask on yourself first.png

Of course some organisations have the opportunity to do good work if they get some government funding, but that’s a third sector organisation, rather than a business. To be an enterprise, they would need to find other streams of revenue too.

As I always say, using the airline analogy, put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then go and save the world.

The part of the book that really intrigued me is the history lesson on Canada’s social impact.

Did you know the Women’s Institute was founded in Ontario in 1897? ‘It’s a Canadian irony that the WI is better known in the UK than Canada’ although I’d have never made the connection. Less surprisingly Greenpeace was founded in Canada, in Vancouver in fact. 

Al Etmanski likened the 12 abolitionists who met in London determined to abolish slavery (when 75% of the world’s population were either enslaved or in forced labour or serfdom. Slavery was the norm) to the daunting task of abolishing guns in the US today or ending our current dependence on fossil fuel.

It is said the Canadian book industry is the cleanest on the planet, with 75% of book publishers printing 95% of their books on environmentally sustainable paper. 

Claudia Li, the founder of Shark Truth  was at the event. This is a Vancouver group that aims to save sharks from extinction by trying to prevent people eating shark fin soup. I learn that this is a Chinese tradition, especially at weddings and celebrations so clearly it was challenge for Claudia. 8000 sharks have been saved so far.

Also there, a former premier of British Columbia, Mike Harcourt – in impact legend - who came up with, among many slogans we’re told – blue box-i-tize.

*The back story is about all the work that was done to try and encourage people to recycle and -ironically - the books that were written on the subject. Then in 1986, in Kitchener, Ontario, someone painted a box blue and people started recycling. Simple idea, put into immediate action.

That’s what I’m going to remember every time I want to change something in the world. Take that first step and the impact will grow.

Which leads me to the final lesson; The question is WHY, rather than HOW.

With grateful thanks to Van City for giving me the book.

What impact stories have you to share? Do email me or let me know via @RickieWrites