Real Clear English Book Club! Session One: Black Box Thinking

Every so often, we’ll post about something we’re reading. We’ll typically offer a summary of the book, some lessons we’ve learned, and a few questions for each of us to explore.

For our inaugural session, we read Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes – But Some Do.

Black Box Thinking.jpg


In commercial aviation, crashes are investigated extensively, and professional bodies work hard to discern lessons and translate them into improved safety procedures.

Healthcare works very differently. Hundreds of thousands of patients die every year from medical error, and there’s little systematic effort to investigate, document, or learn from these tragedies.

Each industry represents a basic attitude toward mistakes: either we can learn from them - and thereby avoid them more successfully in the future - or we can cross our fingers and hope for the best.


The same goes for our own thinking and writing. Our brains are often fooled by logical fallacies, cognitive biases, and shaky “evidence.” We can throw up our hands about it – Oh, what can you do? ­– or we can learn to notice these patterns and begin to grow out of them.

Questions for Each of Us

We all have weaknesses in our writing. Sometimes, it’s language – How do I use the semicolon again? Other times, it’s structural – I know my argument doesn’t quite make sense here, but maybe if I start a new paragraph, my English teacher won’t notice.

It’s tempting to suppress this awareness and paper over our weaknesses. When we do that, though, nothing gets fixed, and we continue to run unnecessary risks.

Some questions, then: what areas of your writing need improvement? And how can you turn toward those weaknesses, name them precisely, and then seek to overcome them?

We’d love to hear your answers to these questions – and to address them here on the blog. Send us a message on Facebook, or email us at englishrealclear AT

 Turns out that real black boxes aren't black.

Turns out that real black boxes aren't black.