Black Box Thinking In Ecommerce

I have just finished the book ‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed

An employee sent it to me as he thought I’d like it.

I did, and it sums up a lot of my thoughts around why some ecommerce sites do or don’t grow.

The book is about failure and how we often conceal failure from our colleagues or ourselves.

Matthew talks about how failure in the aircraft industry has been used successfully to massively reduce air crashes.

When a crash happens there is a full investigation and more importantly findings are acted upon and new procedures put in place.

These new procedures ranged from simple things like making the switches for landing gear different from the surrounding switches – to altering how pilots and co-pilots interact with each other.

It seems how we treat failure is key to how quickly we proceed.

He moves onto medicine where we have a history of failing at failing, deaths are put down as ‘one of those inevitables’ and Doctors have been treated as infallible. Also, in the judicial system the thought that wrongful verdicts happen is unpalatable and swept under the carpet.

Of course, wherever failure is ignored, or cognitive dissonance is used to cover up failure, this results in bad systems that get worse over time.

So how does this help us running ecommerce stores?


I think there is a tendency to ignore failed products, failed promotions and to expect that we know our customers best and to only go out with one option.

The reason for this, is because one option means we don’t fail, or at least we don’t see failure.

We all need to fail more.

Because in the failure of e.g. our home page banner we learn something about where the market is right now.

We should never stop failing, just because a banner won last year in March 2017, does not mean it will win in March 2018.

So even if your split tests fail, celebrate because you are one step closer to working out what works.

See what some of our clients were able to do with the lessons from failure in our case study video here


Mark (Failure) Hammersley

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Hammersley Brothers

Ian and I have been working at the coal face of Ecommerce for 15 years and have recently started to mentor and teach others how to grow Ecommerce revenue.

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