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


The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice

Book - Bounce by Matthew Syed Bounce - by Matthew Syed

I bought this book after being in the audience of a Q&A interview with Matthew Syed and Michael Johnson run by Sunday Times. I bought both of the promoted books but admittedly I was unaware of Matthew Syed previously, either through his table tennis accomplishments or writing and subsequently have only just read it.

Straight away the books’ comforting premise is that anyone can be good if they practice, be it sport, public speaking or maths. It does continue in this vein for a fair while using world champions from the worlds of tennis, chess, athletics and a little football.

A third of the way through, just as I start to think the whole book is going to about sporting champions who practice a lot from an early age like Tiger Woods and the Williams tennis sisters, it starts to get intriguing.  Interestingly enough, parents of the aforementioned state that had their off-spring not loved practicing golf/tennis, they wouldn’t have been able to make world champions out of them. They had to love it first and foremost.

[quote style="boxed"]If you don’t know what you are doing wrong, you can never know what you are doing right.[/quote]

‘If you don’t know what you are doing wrong, you can never know what you are doing right’ says Chen Xinhua from the table tennis world. A great lesson for business owners as we need to constantly evaluate what works and just concentrate on that.

As a trainer, over the years when people have said ‘what if we train our staff and they leave?’ I reply ‘what if you don’t train your staff and they stay?’

It turns out it’s similar to something that the brilliant actor Martin Sheen heard that made him ‘revaluate everything about’ himself and the active political and social stand he has since taken. It was the Vietnam War and Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest who organised non-violent protests was asked, ‘What’s going to happen to our children if we go to prison?’ His response? “What’s going to have happen to them if you don’t?”

Praise effort, never talent

I do love all the examples that prove that it’s effort that gets results, not talent. It’s hard work, practice and if you don’t quite make it, you know there’s room for improvement. Everyone can make it.

Enron, the collapsed financial giant, unfortunately recruited people with talent rather than knowledge. So if they all had the belief they were super talented, their mind-set would surely be they can do no wrong. Even a leading footballer, who is told he is talented at every turn, knows that he is only as good as his last game. In Bounce, we learn of Darius Knight who is plucked for table tennis stardom because of his hours of daily practice made him good. The minute he joins a high performance centre, all he hears is how talented he is with no mention made of all of his effort. He stops trying.

The best way to predict the future is to create it

Another area tackled by the book is the removal of self-doubt. Or to put it another way, you will have heard me talk about many times; having a positive attitude.

No sportsman has played to his potential without the ability to remove doubt from his mind’ according to one of the longest-serving and successful Premiership managers of recent times, Arsenal’s Arsѐne Wenger.

Finally, ‘choking’ is another term used a lot in sport that applies equally in business. In sport, it refers to that time when despite knowing you can achieve something, with all the years of practice behind you, on this occasion you flop. Perhaps you’ve researched a speech and remember it word for word but on the day, you choke and forget your words. Steve Davis sums up how he has overcome this, by learning the art of ‘playing as if it means nothing, when it means everything’.

Buy Bounce