Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success

Author: Matthew Syed

Reasons to read:

  • The book highlights the importance of accepting and learning from failure.
  • Multiple contexts applicable to education.
  • Can be used in reference to leadership or learning environments.
  • It provides working examples of planning and implementing strategies in multiple contexts.

Key notes:

  • Systems that do not engage with failure struggle to learn (closed loops).
  • As a leader, creating an environment that embraces failures as learning opportunities is vital in order for your team to learn. It also helps avoid mistakes being concealed by colleagues worried about the consequences of failing.
  • When planning a new strategy there are two key approaches:
  1. Ballistic approach: The process a sniper goes through before taking a shot. It includes collecting all current, relevant data (e.g. weather conditions and distance from target) in order to set up for the perfect shot. In an education setting this could include available budget and resources, pupil progress data etc. The aim would be to create the perfect strategy or intervention before launching it.
  2. Guided missile approach: Fire the bullet towards the target but then incorporate new and changing information to adjust the path of the bullet. (Only works when combined with the ballistic plan). In an education setting, this could mean launching a strategy or intervention based on current data, but then adapting in reference to new and changing data.
  • Combining top down and bottom up planning produces the best outcomes.

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