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Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success – Book Highlights

Welcome to the first post in what I hope to grow into a full series of posts covering my personal kindle highlights made when reading the tier one and tier two books from my reading list. I’m not sure how many of my readers use a Kindle but as you read a book the device will automatically underline passages that have been highlighted by a large number of other readers.

I decided to start this series as many of the book highlights I was making seemed to have not been picked up by enough readers to have the automatic highlight feature trigger so I thought I would share my highlights as well as why I think they are important. In this post, I will be covering my highlights for Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success by Matthew Syed.

I want to make a quick recommendation for this book, I found it by complete accident when a friend recommended Thick Black Theory for me and I got the books name mixed up when searching Amazon for the book. I have not seen Black Box Thinking recommended on book lists but I honestly think it is a must read, especially if you are new to internet marketing and think failure is a bad thing.

Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance
  • JOHN MURRAY PUBLISHERS
  • Matthew Syed
  • HODDER & STOUGHTON

“We will find that in all these instances the explanation for success hinges, in powerful and often counter-intuitive ways, on how we react to failure.”

Failure is one thing that is a guarantee in this game and I honestly believe our success depends on how we react to our failures. There are two main ways I see people reacting to failure, the first is taking it personally and giving up on their goals. The second is realizing that although they may not have reached their goal, they have gathered data that they can analyze and use to do better their next attempt.

“Failure is something we all have to endure from time to time.”

Although it may seem like the successful never fail I think upon investigation you will find that they are so successful because they fail so much. For example, if J. K. Rowling had allowed any of her first twelve failed attempts to sign a book deal for her Harry Potter series she would not be the richest author of all time with a personal net worth of over $1 billion.

“Studies have shown that we are often so worried about failure that we create vague goals, so that nobody can point the finger when we don’t achieve them.”

I see this in both internet marketing and real life situations all the time and I always try to be specific with my goals while allocating them a time limit. You can see that my blog goals for 2017 all have the time limit of December 2017 with the majority of them having a set numeric target to reach by then.

“They never subjected the treatment to a proper test – and so they never detected failure.”

Back when I first started internet marketing I was guilty of making this mistake and I see many other people new to the industry making the exact same mistake as I did. For example, people maybe trying to work out a way to rank in Google.

To do this they use multiple tools and various theories on the exact same page. If they do manage to rank they have no measurable data of what was worth their time and offered a benefit to their site and what was a waste of time, money, and resources.

Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance
  • JOHN MURRAY PUBLISHERS
  • Matthew Syed
  • HODDER & STOUGHTON

“Save money by learning from mistakes.”

In the past, I have used various OCR Captcha services and taken them at face value. I then decided to test them and publish my findings in this thread. Since identifying that mistake I have canceled the services and been able to save money. This is only one example of where learning from mistakes has saved me money over the long run.

“The more we can fail in practice, the more we can learn, enabling us to succeed when it really matters.”

Although I don’t personally do client work I constantly see people on forums asking for help because they have signed their first “client” without ever having ranked anything in the past. Failing in your own time on your own sites not only helps you earn from your own money site network but also saves you trouble if you decided to go the client route.

“In order to learn from failure, you have to take into account not merely the data you can see, but also the data you can’t.”

“He realized that the chiefs had neglected to take into account some key data. They were only considering the planes that had returned. They were not taking into account the planes that had not returned (i.e. the planes that had been shot down).”

I am grouping these next two quotes together as they get the same point across. If I recall, the second quote is based on engineers during world war two, they were attempting to strengthen planes to prevent them being shot down. After focusing on strengthening the areas of the planes returning from bombing missions with visible damage they realized that the main weaknesses had resulted in the plane being shot down and removing any available data to counter the weakness.

Using a process of elimination they then worked out that the planes that had been shot down were taking hits in the cockpit, fuel tanks, and munitions bays. They then made changes to these areas and reduced the rate at which planes were being shot down drastically.

There are so many things you have to take into account with internet marketing, try and think outside of the box as the fault you are having with your campaign maybe related to something you can’t even see initially.

Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance
  • JOHN MURRAY PUBLISHERS
  • Matthew Syed
  • HODDER & STOUGHTON

“By making testable predictions, scientists are able to see when their theories are going wrong, which, in turn, hands them the impetus to create new theories.”

Regular readers of my blog will know that I always make a prediction on my case studies as well an evaluation on the results of the test. This often gives me ideas for future testing to try and workout why something did not behave the way I predicted while increasing my over all knowledge.

“Captain James Lancaster, an English sailor, performed an experiment on the prevention of scurvy, one of the biggest killers at sea. On one of four ships bound for India, he prescribed three teaspoons of lemon juice a day for the crew. By the halfway point 110 men out of 278 had died on the other three ships. On the lemon-supplied ship, however, everyone survived.”

One thing I take from this is to always have control groups where you take no action. This enables you to compare any effects of your changes to a regular batch so you can measure benefit. It also shows how testing a simple theory can make sure a large change, after completing this test rations of citrus based fruits were issued to the majority of long distance voyages and massively reduce scurvy rates among the sailors.

“The findings were, in one sense, obvious. In another sense they were revolutionary.”

I have lost count of the number of times I have completed a test only to look back in hindsight and realize the findings now seem obvious while at the same time changing the entire way I did things. Unfortunately, you require the test data to already be in your possession to come to this revelation.

“When I first started in F1, we recorded eight channels of data. Now we have 16,000 from every single parameter on the car.”

F1 is one of the leading sports for tracking data to better overall performance. I do not have the time frame it took for the growth of data collection to reach 16,000 channels but it is an increase of 199,900% on the original 8 channels!

Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance
  • JOHN MURRAY PUBLISHERS
  • Matthew Syed
  • HODDER & STOUGHTON

“Kobayashi approached the contest with a marginal gains mindset. First, instead of eating the hot dog as a whole (as all speed-eating champions had done until that point), he tried breaking it in half. He found that it gave him more options for chewing, and freed his hands to improve loading. It was a marginal gain. Then he experimented with eating the dog and the bread separately rather than at once. He found that the dogs went down super-fast, but he still struggled with the chewy, doughy buns. So he experimented by dipping the buns in water, then in water at different temperatures, then with water sprinkled with vegetable oil, then he videotaped his training sessions, recorded the data on spreadsheets, tracked slightly different strategies (flat out, pacing himself, sprint finishing), tested different ways of chewing, swallowing and various ‘wriggles’ that manipulated the space in his stomach in order to avoid vomiting. He tested each small assumption.”

You can see how Kobayashi’s approach to testing as many approaches as possible allowed him to not only become a speed eating champion but also revolutionized how the other competitors approached the sport. Similar to how Dick Fosbury revolutionized the Olympic high jump with his Fosbury Flop developed from carrying out his own tests and ending up changing how the competitors would approach the sport forever.

Taking a marginal gains approach to developing or improving your method can completely revolutionize how you approach things while massively improving your results.

“In the first year alone, I conducted literally hundreds of experiments.”

An excellent approach to gain as much knowledge as possible as fast as possible. Never take anything at face value, even the things you read on this blog. Always test them for yourself as there are individual things such as hardware, list quality and tool settings that can change the outcome massively for each user.

“When people talk about my free kicks they focus on the goals,’ he said. ‘But when I think about free kicks I think about all those failures. It took tons of misses before I got it right.”

If I remember correctly, this is a quote from David Beckham about being his own biggest critic and focusing on the failures along with how to improve on them rather than the good times. This is easy to implement into bettering yourself and your methods, rather than focusing on the things that are going right for you let them run their course and put time into the things that are failing to look at developing methods to improve them.

Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance
  • JOHN MURRAY PUBLISHERS
  • Matthew Syed
  • HODDER & STOUGHTON

“I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots. I’ve lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.”

A famous quote from Michael Jordan that can help to put failure into perspective for you. He missed 9000 shots, lost almost 300 games but is regarded as one of the greatest sportsmen of all time and is one of less than 200 players currently in the Basketball Hall Of Fame.

“James Dyson worked his way through 5,127 prototypes while his competitors didn’t get through the first 100”

Another book highlight that can put failure and method tweaking into perspective for you, before James Dyson amassed a $4.6 Billion net worth he had to go through 5,127 variations of his product before he felt it was good enough to move forward with and dominate the market.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”

This is probably my favorite quote from the entire book and something that you can implement into most things in life to help better yourself.

Last update on 2017-08-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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