Your Black Box

Keeping a "personal black box" allows us to deal with the truth without minimizing or sugar-coating our mistakes.

On March 8th, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, heading to Beijing, China. The Boeing 777-200 ER aircraft was carrying two hundred and thirty-nine people including the crew. Thirty-eight minutes into the flight, air traffic controls (ATC) communication with the plane dropped. The aircraft became lost from ATC radar screens before being located on a military radar for another hour as it deviated from the original flight path. The plane went on to unexpectedly cross the Penang Island in northwestern Malaysia, where the aircraft would vanish completely from military radar range. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared and was never to be seen or heard from again. 

Five years later, this horrible and tragic tragedy remains unsolved. The search for the missing plane remains one of the most expensive in aviation history. The vastness of the region, as well as the black box never being recovered, made it very challenging to shed light on why and how this devasting event occurred. The black box allows us to learn from the mistake in hopes of keeping us from making the same ones over again.  

In Matthew Syed's book, Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes—But Some Do, the author encourages us to construct a black box thought process for our personal and professional life. Syed proclaims: "Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself." It's human nature not to want to admit mistakes. It takes a unique leader and coach to be willing to show and share vulnerability from errors. However, to reach our full potential, we must learn and grow from past failures. Keeping a "personal black box" allows us to deal with the truth without minimizing or sugar-coating our mistakes. We tend to lessen the error, making it seem not as atrocious as it might appear. It's like telling a little lie, which seems not as wrong as a big lie. However, we all understand a lie is a lie regardless of size, as a mistake is a mistake. 

In a courtroom, there is a stenographer, on airplanes, a black box, and in the operating room, there are detailed notes and visuals recorded. As coaches, we film practice to give the players their black box truth. Yet we never film a meeting with the staff or have someone document what is being discussed and decided. Why is that? How can the fields of law, aviation, and healthcare use their version of the black box, yet, we seem to want to avoid the minutes of our meetings? 

When we do install a black box mindset into our daily life, Matthew Syed wants us to: 

  1. Look for opposing evidence by treating your ideas as hypotheses.

  2. Develop a positive relationship with failure to stop avoiding it.

  3. Ask ourselves are we ready to make failure our friend?

Spend time the next few days figuring out how you can implement black box thinking into your professional and personal self-discovery journey. Embrace mistakes, learn from others, and never fear what will be on the tape!


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