Top Ten Quotes: Upstream
It’s no secret that I’m an unashamed fan of Chip and Dan Heath. They crank out incredibly good content wrapped in an incredibly compelling writing style. Their primary target audience isn’t churches, but I’ve given away their books to more church leaders than I can possibly count. Made to Stick is a master class for preachers and Bible teachers. Decisive provided a great framework for both corporate and individual decision making. Switch had so many personal and spiritual growth overtures I lost count, and The Power of Moments…well, as a guest services guy, I couldn’t get my hands on that one fast enough.
That’s why I was excited to get an advance copy of Dan’s first solo book, which releases today (March 3, 2020) on Amazon. The title is Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, and it’s another volume I’m going to be using and referring to often.
I can summarize the gist of Dan’s book by reproducing this story from page one. If this doesn’t convince you to click the link and buy it, nothing will:
You and a friend are having a picnic by the side of a river. Suddenly you hear a shout from the direction of the water – a child is drowning. Without thinking, you both dive in, grab the child, and swim to shore. Before you can recover, you hear another child cry for help. You and your friend jump back in the river to rescue her as well. Then another struggling child drifts into sight…and another…and another. The two of you can barely keep up. Suddenly, you see your friend wading out of the water, seeming to leave you alone. “Where are you going?” you demand. Your friend answers, “I’m going upstream to tackle the guy who’s throwing all these kids in the water.”
– A public health parable (adapted from the original, which is commonly attributed to Irving Zola)
The rest of the book supports the idea of going upstream. Dan melds research, case studies, and anecdotes to prove that we live in a world of downstream problem solvers, when upstream problem preventers is what the world needs. From eliminating 20 million customer calls to Expedia to shipping custom-made bicycles in flat-screen TV boxes to the eerie upstream work that could have prevented Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, Upstream is a master work in helping churches, businesses, and any organization stop problems before they’re problems.
Here are my top ten favorite quotes:
- Downstream actions react to problems once they’ve occurred. Upstream efforts aim to prevent those problems from happening.
- When we don’t see a problem, we can’t solve it.
- The escape from problem blindness begins with the shock of awareness that you’ve come to treat the abnormal as normal…The seed of improvement is dissatisfaction.
- When they’re done right, upstream meetings can be energizing: creative and honest and improvisational, with the kind of camaraderie that emerges from the shared struggle to achieve something meaningful.
- To change the system is to change the rules that govern us or the culture that influences us.
- The postmortem for a problem can be the preamble to a solution.
- When everything is cause for alarm, nothing is cause for alarm.
- Upstream work hinges on humility.
- …reactive efforts succeed when problems happen and they’re fixed. Preventive efforts succeed when nothing happens.
- It’s hard to convince people to collaborate when hardship hasn’t forced them to.
March 3, 2020 update: two quotes above have been slightly adjusted to match the final print version of the book.
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Disclaimer: I received a free advance reader’s copy of Upstream as a part of my subscription to the Heath brothers’ newsletter. They did not ask for a public review or endorsement of the book, nor am I being compensated to do so. Further, if you order a resource from a link on any “Top Ten Quotes” page, I may receive a small affiliate commission from Amazon. If that bugs you, feel free to bypass my link and buy from a vendor of your choice. But still: buy it. I only promote books that have benefitted me and that I believe will benefit you.