Black Box Thinking Book Summary - Black Box Thinking Book explained in key points
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Black Box Thinking summary

Matthew Syed

The Surprising Truth About Success (And Why Some People Never Learn from Mistakes)

4 (165 ratings)
13 mins

Brief summary

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed is a book about the importance of learning from failures and using them to improve. It explores the power of creating a culture of openness, and the benefits of looking at mistakes as opportunities to innovate and grow.

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    Black Box Thinking
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    People are afraid of failure because it compromises their self-esteem.

    Children have a hard time admitting their mistakes. It’s practically automatic for them to deny doing things like drawing all over the walls, even when the evidence – the marker in their hand and the ink on their fingers – is indisputable. But are we that much different when we’re all grown up?

    Not really. In general, people are highly averse to admitting that they’ve made a mistake. In fact, we hate admitting that we’ve made an error more than we hate making mistakes themselves!

    A look at the criminal justice system makes this very clear.

    In 1984, the advent of DNA testing enabled prosecutors to prove guilt beyond doubt. You’d think that this fool-proof technology would work the other way around, too – helping wrongfully convicted people prove their innocence. Unfortunately, it usually didn’t work that way. In most cases law enforcement simply wouldn’t admit that they’d made a mistake.

    Take the case of Juan Rivera, a 19-year-old with a history of mental illness. In 1992, he was accused of raping and murdering an eleven-year-old girl, and sentenced to life in prison. Thirteen years later, a DNA test proved Juan’s innocence. But prosecutors wouldn’t budge, and it took another six years for his release.

    So why is it so hard to admit mistakes? Well, admitting error compromises our self-esteem, especially when it’s about something important.

    Those prosecutors from the Rivera case weren’t necessarily bad people. They may have simply wanted to cover up their mistakes.

    Perhaps the hardest part of admitting mistakes is the first part – admitting to yourself that you’ve made one. This is especially true when the mistake is a big one, like sending an innocent person to spend 13 years in prison. Admitting such a horrible mistake instantly compromises your self-esteem, making it difficult to even live with yourself?

    So, in all likelihood, the prosecutors truly believed that Rivera was guilty, and that there was some explanation for the negative DNA test that didn’t rule out guilt.

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    What is Black Box Thinking about?

    Black Box Thinking (2015) explores the ways in which failure, despite all the shame and pain associated with it, is actually one of our greatest assets. Full of practical tips on how to develop a healthy, productive relationship to failure, Black Box Thinking will put you on the path to success.

    Black Box Thinking Review

    Black Box Thinking (2015) is a thought-provoking exploration of the power of learning from failure and the importance of embracing a growth mindset. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers compelling case studies and real-world examples to show the immense value of confronting and learning from mistakes.
    • By challenging conventional thinking and advocating for a more open, accountable culture, the book provides insights that can improve not only individual lives but entire systems and industries.
    • With its accessible tone and engaging storytelling, the book captivates readers, making it an enjoyable and enlightening read.

    Best quote from Black Box Thinking

    It is only when we have staked our ego that our mistakes of judgement become threatening.

    —Matthew Syed
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    Who should read Black Box Thinking?

    • Psychology enthusiasts
    • Anyone who is sick of making the same mistakes
    • People who want to turn their failures into successes

    About the Author

    Matthew Syed is a British journalist and Oxford alumnus, as well as a three-time Men’s Singles Champion at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships. He is also the author of Bounce.

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    Black Box Thinking FAQs 

    What is the main message of Black Box Thinking?

    The main message of Black Box Thinking is that learning from failure is crucial for success and growth.

    How long does it take to read Black Box Thinking?

    The reading time for Black Box Thinking varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Black Box Thinking a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Black Box Thinking is a valuable read, offering insights into the importance of embracing failure and learning from it to achieve success.

    Who is the author of Black Box Thinking?

    The author of Black Box Thinking is Matthew Syed.

    What to read after Black Box Thinking?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Black Box Thinking, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters
    • Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
    • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
    • Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan
    • Bounce by Matthew Syed
    • Winners by Alastair Campbell
    • Range by David Epstein
    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    • Moore’s Law by Arnold Thackray
    • The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington