🌊 Upstream: A unique problem-solving mindset

I've never been a fan of books on problem-solving. Usually, they are filled with cliches like "think outside the box" and not actionable tips.

But the book Upstream by Dan Heath completely changed the way I think about complex problems.

If you are in the corporate world like me, you probably spend your days putting out fires, dealing with emergencies, handling problem after problem.

But you never actually get around to fixing the system that caused the problems in the first place.

This is what Upstream is all about - fixing issues upstream in your system so you spend less time downstream in fire drills.

πŸ”₯ Why do we love fire drills?

The question you should be asking is why do we skew so heavily towards reacting to problems rather than spending our time preventing those problems instead?

Dan says this is because it's more tangible. Downstream work is easier to see. Easier to measure.

A classic example of what gets measured, gets managed.

Saying you dealt with 13 issues is a lot easier to tell your boss than saying you spent your time creating a system that prevented issues down the road - when you can’t even put a number to how many problems you might have avoided.

⭐ Some examples:

  • πŸ‘¨πŸΎβ€πŸ¦± Therapists help people deal with drug addictions
  • πŸ‘©πŸ»β€πŸ¦° Recruiters replace talent in the workforce
  • πŸ‘¨πŸ½β€βš•οΈ Doctors prescribe inhalers to kids with breathing issues

It’s great that we have these people, but wouldn’t it be better if...

  • πŸ’Š People never got addicted to drugs in the first place
  • πŸ’Ό Recruiters didn’t have to replace employees
  • 🫁 The kids never got asthma

That is upstream thinking.

But preventive efforts succeed when nothing happens downstream.

It's a lot easier to say you treated 15 drug addicts than it is to say you prevented 15 people from becoming drug addicts.

How do you prove that those 15 people would have become drug addicts without your help? That's why upstream thinking is overlooked.

πŸ›‘ What stops us?

There are (3) common barriers that stop us from looking upstream:

  • πŸ‘οΈ Problem blindness: The belief that negative outcomes are natural or inevitable. Out of our control. We are oblivious to the problems even being there.
  • πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Lack of ownership: This is when you can’t blame anyone for the issues because.... well, no one owns it - mainly because this is a system problem - you can’t blame it on just one person
  • πŸ›£οΈ Tunneling: Focusing so intently on a task that you don’t think about the bigger problem - or the system - you don’t think: β€œWhy does this keep happening?” - you just keep putting out the tiny fires

πŸ“„ Tests

There are a series of tests you can do before implementing a plan for a team to avoid downstream issues:

  • 🌊 Rising tides test: Imagine that you succeed on your short-term measures. What else might explain that success, other than your efforts?
  • βœ… Misalignment test: Imagine that you’ll learn that your short-term measures (that you created) do not reliably predict success. What alternate short-term measures might provide a potential replacement?
  • πŸ›‹οΈ Lazy coworker test: If someone wanted to succeed on these measures with the least effort possible, what would they do?
  • 🎯 Defiling-the-mission test: Imagine that years from now, you have succeeded brilliantly according to our short-term measures, yet you have undermined your long-term mission. What happened?

✍️ Author to Other Books

Dan and his brother Chip have written a bunch of other books - some of which are New York Times bestsellers. I have read Switch and Made to Stick - both phenomenal reads on how to be a change-maker and make ideas well... stick.

πŸ“– My Favorite Book Companion

I've been loving this software called Shortform. I use it as my personal book assistant.

They recently reached out and we are collaborating on my next book review video on Build by Tony Fadell.

I am super cautious with sponsorships on my YouTube channel because I genuinely only want to promote products I use daily. This is one of those perfect partnerships because I do use the software frequently.

For example, you can search Dan Heath and see detailed summaries and links to the books on Amazon. I love how they custom-make their covers too!

I was able to get a 20% discount for us on their annual subscription - feel free to check it out if you are interested.

It's even got my little face on the link to the discount code - so cute!


🧭 Behind the Scenes

I have a bunch of videos in the pipeline:

⬆️ Posting:

  • Figma to Power Apps: all about how to design an app in Figma and turn it into a Power App - should be out this week!

🎞️ Editing:

  • Big Potential: My editor is wrapping up a book review - should be out next week!
  • Build: I just filmed a book review on Build yesterday which was sponsored by Shortform! Super excited to have this one come out at the end of the month.

✍🏽 Scripting:

  • How to Invest Your HSA: I am working on potentially doing a video on how I invested my HSA and using it as a third retirement fund
  • Notion vs Microsoft Loop: Almost done writing this one - it'll be a side-by-side comparison of the two software
  • The Chip War: Long time coming - I have pages and pages of notes - plus I work at Intel so it makes for a nice unique twist!

πŸ”— Full Video

Link to the full book review video on Upstream πŸ‘‡πŸΌ