Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Currently reading: Black-Box Thinking

I've just started reading Matthew Syed's "Black-Box Thinking" alongside Gray Cook's "Movement". Clearly two very different books, but it's good to be able to swap between them. In the past I've had anything up to 10 or more books on the go at any given time, mainly when I was researching and preparing. These days two is enough, although a new book dropped through the door today all about fascia and I'm tempted to have a dip into that. Oh, and I'm re-reading John Gibbons book about the glutes.

Black-Box Thinking is an interesting read so far. I'm only about 10% of the way through the book, so barely scratching the surface, but apart from maybe one too may anecdotal stories (I skimmed through the last on about WW2 bomber planes, but read enough to pick up the salient point of the story), I've enjoyed what I've read so far. The basic premise of the book concerns how we learn or don't learn from failure and errors.

The contrast is made between aviation and healthcare. Aviation has a very open culture that encourages the reporting of errors and failures and their investigation. The reason is simple enough: failures are data rich and learning opportunities for future failure or error avoidance. Through a series of stories this becomes very clear and very positive. Healthcare, by  contrast, is more inclined to conceal its errors and failures. The reasons for this are complex to the extent that they involve issues around litigation, perception of success and competence etc.

I'm not quite sure what you'd use to describe the opposite of Black-box thinking, but we probably all recognise when we see or hear. The other day I was listening the radio and they were discussing education. A report had suggested that the development of a northern powerhouse might be undermined by the apparent failures in education, particularly in secondary education. "Who's to blame?" was the question, a question typical of non-black-box thinking. It's a search for the scapegoat, and even those answering the question were guilty of the same pattern of thinking. One side says it's poor teachers, one side suggests it's poor leadership and eventually someone blames the government. Very little was said about solutions and opportunities to move forward. There was always a reason why it wasn't possible to do something positive. Maybe to was the way the discussion was arranged, maybe it was just a symptom of the kind of thinking the book describes as a closed loop approach.

It does make you think about your own approach to failure. As you know, I play tennis. Sometimes I play well, sometimes I don't. I lose a lot! I don't like losing, but it's part of the game and the simple truth is that there are a lot of tennis players who are very much better players than I am. I have played with and against another player who has been taking lessons for as long as I have and as regularly. When we first started playing we were pretty even. He would win some, I would win some. More recently I've beaten him consistently and, it has to be said, quite heavily (6-1, 6-0, that kind of thing). I've clearly improved more than he has. I think I know why.

Firstly, I own my errors and failures. I try not to make excuses, even if there's a valid reason why I played poorly. I know it's down to my technical execution of the shot and/or my choice of shot that lets me down. I also know when I'm playing a better player or a player who might not be significantly better, but who is certainly more experienced. I try to take my failure and process it into what I need to do in order to do better next time. It's a long process and it takes times, effort and application to practice the right things in the right way.

Secondly, I practice. I work as hard as I can to improve.

In contrast, my fellow student doesn't seem to play much differently now compared to how he played when we first met. He still makes the same errors, and he still makes as many as he did 4 or 5 years ago. When we talk about the game his approach is often to blame the court surface, the weather conditions, balls, the strings, his grip or his failure to "go for it", which usually means hitting it as hard as he can.

Perhaps that makes me more of a black-box thinker. I'll keep reading the book to find out!

1 comment:

Dave said...

I agree. I'm now 38 years old and have played tennis since I was 11. I don't have as much time to play as I used to but I still give private lessons on a weekly basis because I enjoy it. Anytime I make mistakes I analyze what I did in my head and make note of what I need to fix to prevent it from happening next time:
1. Did I just hit without actually thinking of where?
2. Did I make sure my racquet was back early and I extended my arm fully on the swing..... etc....

We are all in constant improvement..... in tennis.... in our health....with our children..... in our knowledge and understanding. Glad I cam across your blog. Keep up these insightful posts!!