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Black Box Thinking - Matthew Syed

Emotive and engaging, the case studies in this book are powerful stories that explain Syed's arguments well.

Syed argues that everything in life, from business to sport, can be treated highly scientifically. If you would like to optimise or improve any process it can be done by treating the process like an experiment.

Create a clear hypothesis of what you expect to happen, then conduct the experiment, and review the results to draw a conclusion.

While this may seem very simple, there are three reasons why it is not easy:

1. Many process in life are very hard to get feedback/results/data from. Our brains work against us here. Cognitive dissonance protects our beliefs and self esteem by justifying and post event rationalising evidence to suit our beliefs. Essentially we are good at lying to ourselves, or to use the intellectual term, creating a 'narrative fallacy'. We ignore evidence.

2. Tests may have to be run hundreds of times or with many variations in order to discover what has an impact.

3. There are many hard to see bias that may effect the results of your tests, you may have to use more sophisticated testing techniques (like Randomised Control Trials) in order to get accurate results.

Syed uses interesting stories about product iteration, applying the principles evolution to product design in order to improve manufacturing efficiency.

He talks in detail about marginal gains, optimising every small stage in a process to have a big impact in the over all result.

The book is very well rounded as he discusses the limitation to this method of process improvement. Namely that local maximum problem, iterations will only take you to a local maximum not a whole new peak.

What does that mean? While you may be able to iterate and improve a process like making better and better fuel efficient combustion engines. It may not be possible to iterate to an entirely knew process like electric cars.

It's impossible to do this book justice in such a short review, I highly recommend getting a copy and give it a solid 9/10. I must say a big thank you to Richard Hanscott for recommending it to me!


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