The Marketing Centre Bookclub, September 2016


The Marketing Centre Bookclub, September 2016

Nik Haidar’s choice:

Nik Haidar, part-time Marketing Director

‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed

Could admitting our mistakes boost our marketing potential and business success? Nik Haidar reviews Matthew Syed’s Black Box Thinking to find out.

Why have you chosen this book? Why does it matter?

“It’s about marginal gains – if you break down a big goal into small parts and then improve on each of them, you will deliver a huge increase when you put them all together.”

That’s the theory expounded by David Brailsford, Team Sky Cycling General Manager. It’s the theory at the centre of the 67 medals won by Team GB’s record breaking Olympic team. It’s also the core of Black Box Thinking by journalist Matthew Syed.

The book is ultimately about how high performance is achieved by low-level attention to detail and a commitment to constant questioning, challenging and changing. Syed draws on experiences from a vast range of sectors – from healthcare to aviation, via sport, manufacturing and even criminal justice. With each, the point is resoundingly clear.

Where people consciously take the time to look at results, question them and – most crucially – are transparent about their findings, they learn, they improve and they make astonishing strides forward. Conversely, those who hide poor results only compound their poor performance.

The most stark example Syed draws is from the world of aviation where “learning from failure is hardwired into the system”. Whenever there is an aviation accident, every airline, constructor, engineer and pilot in the world has access to the accident data. Everyone can learn from the mistake – this is “Black Box Thinking”.

What will business owners gain from the book?

Business culture today is one where – in most cases – mistakes are buried; products that bomb are blamed on incompetent predecessors; strategies that don’t deliver are tied to the CEO who got fired for them, and advertising campaigns fail to work because “the market wasn’t ready for it”. We can all think of examples.

Even without openly broadcasting their business mistakes, most business owners could benefit from reflecting more honestly on what worked and what didn’t – and why; questioning the data without prejudice and, importantly, asking others to give a different perspective. This isn’t a new idea. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt:

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

In a business environment where the pace of change keeps accelerating, it’s hard to see how this isn’t the right approach to take. We can see the results of digital campaigns instantly. The rockstar startups of the last decades all espouse “lean” principles of pivoting and building minimum viable products. Software development everywhere is becoming more agile. A business’ ability to adapt and change has to run in step.

Black Box Thinking is a fundamental tool in that arsenal.

If you like this, you might also like…

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Black Box Thinking was reviewed by Nik Haidar, regional director for The Marketing Centre.

Based in London, Nik works with internet, technology and telecoms business of all sizes. He has launched award-winning products in the UK, managed teams across Europe and worked in a number of countries including Russia and Australia. With a proven track–record in NPD, Nik has a genuine passion for unlocking the potential in the people and portfolios he works with.