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Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen
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Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  3,039 ratings  ·  386 reviews
So often in life, we get stuck in a cycle of response. We put out fires. We deal with emergencies. We stay downstream, handling one problem after another, but we never make our way upstream to fix the systems that caused the problems ... [This book] probes the psychological forces that push us downstream--including 'problem blindness,' which can leave us oblivious to serio ...more
Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published March 3rd 2020 by Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
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Average rating 4.19  · 
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 ·  3,039 ratings  ·  386 reviews


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kartik narayanan
Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Upstream is an excellent book that talks about the value of thinking in systems and finding/fixing the root cause of problems.

There are many things to like about Upstream.

First and foremost is the topic itself, which is something that not many people think about. The majority of us are reactive, caught up in day to day minutiae. A few of us have the will, fire and thought process to think bigger to figure out that there is a problem and actually make an attempt at solving it. You can see this i
...more
Bryan Alkire
Nov 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
Not very good. I was very disappointed with this one. The idea was interesting, the execution not. Any book which posits anticipate and prevent problems before they arise is a good idea. Some of the examples in the book were interesting. But, this book has too many flaws to be likeable. First, the examples were limited to successful cherry-picked example so they lack depth. Second, the examples aren’t really scalable to large segments outside of small groups. Third, the writing is boring. Fourth ...more
Gretchen Rubin
I received a galley—this book hasn't hit the shelves yet. It's a fascinating discussion about the importance of looking "upstream" to solve problems—i.e., figure out solutions to avoid making them in the first place. ...more
Kev Willoughby
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"The question is not: Who suffers most from the problem? The question is: Who's best positioned to fix it, and will they step up?"

If you've ever uttered the phrase, "That's not my job!", then this is not the book for you. Stop reading this review now and find another book to read while there's still time to remain helpless. You won't like this one.

Early in the book, my most favorite quote sums up the best problem-solving advice I've ever read: "I'd like each of you to tell the story of this situ
...more
Simon Eskildsen
Apr 18, 2020 rated it liked it
I devour Heath books like candy, this one was good, but not as good as Decisive and Power of Moments.

There's the old saying that 'a stitch in time saves nine.' That's what this book's about. We all recognize the value of being proactive, but the issues with solving problems upstreams are manifold: It's exceedingly hard to prove causation. It's easy to know how many people a hospital saves, but less so how many lives a public health campaign saves. We all know which one is better funded. We all h
...more
Andy
Jun 06, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is highly readable and covers super-important ground. My disappointment with it was that over and over the examples used were pretty far downstream, which is weird for a book called "Upstream." This is even illustrated by the life preserver on the cover.
As far as drowning prevention goes, throwing a lifesaver is just one small step upstream from jumping into the water to rescue someone. Maybe the author felt that the concept of Upstream is so alien to our culture that he could only hope to
...more
Sebastian Gebski
Mar 29, 2020 rated it liked it
The whole idea of "upstream thinking" is about pro-active solving of root causes of the problems. Instead of reactive dealing with their visible symptoms.

The idea ain't new (of course) - DN's (author's) goal is to convince the reader why the changing of the
mindset (from downstream to upstream) is beneficial & why (at the same time) we're leaning towards downstream thinking.

The book itself is quite well written, there are plenty of examples, which do "touch" several other topics - e.g. systems t
...more
Dan Connors
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-books
What if we could travel back in time and stop disasters to make sure they never happen? You could prevent deaths, relay critical information, and prevent untold suffering if you just had a time machine. Or could you? Sometimes I think I would go back and no one would listen to me because I was asking them to change. Are we all stuck in an inevitable cycle of predestined events, or can we change the future meaningfully with actions today?

We don't need a time machine. We can change the future ev
...more
Mukesh Gupta
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got an advanced review copy (digital) of the book via NetGalley.. as with all the other Heath brothers book, I loved the book a lot. I have gifted 100’s of copies of Switch, Decisive, the power of moments and made to stick and it looks like I will be giving away 100’s of copied of this book to my friends, family and customers as well.

What I liked about the book:
- the book deals with the difficult question of how can we make prevention an important topic for all rather than just cure what is
...more
Anders Brabaek
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, non-fiction
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Dan Heath's message is that we should solve problems at their root (upstream) rather than downstream when we are hit with the reality - we should try to intercept the causes of a problem rather than just trying to tackle the product. In this context he is discussing methodologies such as system thinking, and how we should leverage knowledge through data - as well as how we should not. He is discussing the many reasons why we fail to solve the pr
...more
Scott Wozniak
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is one of the most important topics--and not just for leaders. Thinking ahead and preventing problems is one of the most powerful things we can do. So I was super excited about this book. And it was good. But it wasn't quite as good as I hoped. The stories of upstream change are marvelous. The writing skill is top quality. So it's really fun to read. But the principles stayed at the broad/general level and didn't get tactical enough that I felt like someone could go home and start solving t ...more
Diane Law
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A business book, but an excellent read for anyone who is solving problems of any sort.
Sidharth Mishra
Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good book by Dan Heath.

The author does a very commendable job of describing how as a society we tend to value reacting to problems and solving them downstream, rather than having the wisdom to think long term and prevent problems from happening at the first place.
In a story he shared of kids drowning in a river, we are so focused on saving kids downstream that we do not give attention to why do they need saving at all.

Something to ponder over in various walks of life as almost all of u
...more
Alex Perdiz
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic book, I enjoyed the author´s approach to the art of prevention and the quote on: "There are many organizations that are dedicated to help the poor, but how many to prevent them?"

This book gives great examples when it comes to solving problems and being proactive about them.
...more
Hrishi
Good Insights, but unnecessarily stretched.
Beverly Duffy
May 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Some motivational ideas on taking a proactive approach to situations. Positive thinking has you going upstream.
Nick Salenga
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book that proves psychological forces that push us downstream including "problem blindness" which can leave us oblivious to serious problems in our midst & introduces us to thinkers who have overcome these obstacles & scored massive victories by switching to upstream mind-set. ...more
Daniel
Apr 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is heroic to fight fires; it is even better if the fire does not happen in the first place. This book is about how to prevent problems from happening.

1. Systemic thinking. An organization allows us to focus on our ‘job’; therefore systemic problems cannot be identified. Expedia was having lots of phone calls from customers just to print the itinerary. However each team was doing its thing and resources were wasted. Eventually the feature to allow printing itineraries was added and millions o
...more
Cindy
Feb 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: harvey-2021
This was very interesting to me as so much is relevant to my work. I am a medication safety officer for the Army and spent a large amount of time trying to examine the systems and devise ways to improve them to drive change, reduce human errors, and increase the likelihood that people will make the right decisions. Sometimes it's simple - change the location of a medication or use a different font for some items to make them stand out - and other times it's difficult - driving change at an organ ...more
Raz Pirata
“Upstream work is difficult to measure and doesn’t translate to short-term tangible results.”

Once upon a time I used to pride myself on my ability to solve problems. Missed a flight, no sweat, I know how to re-book. Flat tire, don’t worry, there is a spare in the trunk. Visa expired… I know how to run to the consulate and fall down on your knees and beg for an extension. These were issues I could fix, problems I could solve, and I was proud of this ability.

I’ll bet you are probably pretty proud
...more
Jay Hennessey
Apr 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a fantastic read - honestly struggling on why I am not making this a 5 Star read. In short, while, I advocate reading the entire book, I really did feel like I got the big idea in chapter 1.

That said, the book is packed with stories from corporate America, education, Health Care, etc to make the point and to get us thinking. I happened to be reading this book in conjunction with Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline - what a combo. Upstream is s deep dive on systems thinking. Having just finish
...more
Divya Shanmugam
Nov 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Read for the science & policy bookclub -- I'd recommend reading it if you want to read about people with Real Impact. I don't know when I'd refer to the steps he presents, but the anecdotes are compelling. Two of the most inspiring stories (about raising the graduation rate in the Chicago Public School system and addressing veteran homelessness in Rockford, Illinois) share close attention to and interaction with the people they intend to help. Makes me think all applied research, outside of HCI, ...more
Casey
Oct 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good book, providing a how-to method for getting ahead of issues and putting in place front end solutions to reconfigure the “stream” and prevent the original problem from forming. The book is wide-ranging, covering examples from education, municipalities, and finance. The author admits, up front, that this is an ‘easier said than done’ concept. The book proceeds to step through the various actions necessary to achieve upstream solutions. These include finding time & space, analyzing for root ...more
Shay
Mar 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
I appreciated that a lot of this book was not just about the benefits of upstream thinking, but also focused on why it is difficult, and anticipating the ways that it can go wrong. Heath, who teaches social entrepreneurship at Duke University, provides examples of times that upstream thinking succeeded, such as improving the graduation rate in Chicago Public Schools, but also points to dismal failures, such as the abuses of CompStat policing software to artificially lower crime rates. Heath also ...more
Daniel Hansen
Sep 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I love books by Dan Heath and this is no exception!
As an Experience Designer, I often turn problems into solutions, and over the course of time, I've come to the realization that we focus too much on the solution (everybody can come up with ideas) and tend to neglect the problem.
Instead of being reactive and dealing with the symptoms of a problem we should locate the real problem and deal with it and thereby prevent it from happening again. This book is about identifying and dealing with the re
...more
Naveen Arun
Oct 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I was basically addicted to this - throughout I felt constantly more and more empowered to make real change in the world. (I'm not sure if that will translate into action or not now that I'm finished, but it definitely made me feel empowered while reading 😂)

My favorite quotes:

- "Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets"
- "The need for heroism is usually evidence of systems failure"

Although there are some bits and pieces that can be applied to one's personal life, the book i
...more
Christopher Mitchell
This is an essential book for any policymaker or business leader to understand - not just that solving problems before they happen is better than waiting for them to happen, but that the incentives are very much aligned in the wrong direction. Culturally, heros solve problems at the last second, not before anyone realizes it will be a problem.

The book offers important contributions to policy thinking in an engaging and humorous way. The funniest nonfiction book I have read in a long time. Irreve
...more
Bailey L.
Feb 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a 250-page book, and it reads super fast. Still, it could have been 50 pages shorter and gotten the message across. Some of the examples were absolutely fascinating, but a couple of them felt more like overkill or told in too many words. He relies heavily on a few other books I've read and does a good job of summarizing a few of their main points, since they're both drier than this one: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows. I appreciated th ...more
Anandh Sundar
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I first thought this book is just a long elaboration of the principle 'A Stitch in time saves nine'. But it also covers the nitty gritties(incentives), counter examples(South Korea thyroid cancer), Y2K, Hurricane Katrina thin single use plastic bags, and gives a summary at the end. While the author does try to push a certain agenda, it seems fact based. Key lessons are to apply RCA, systems thinking, recognize the problem and take ownership. ...more
Anthony Locke
Sep 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
Interesting book on the complexities of upstream thinking. Heath includes a lot of interesting public policy and corporate stories to make his points. He has a series of questions that I think are helpful for any leader to consider when trying to properly identify upstream problems and solutions at the individual, community, and systemic levels.
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Dan Heath is a Senior Fellow at Duke University's CASE center.
Dan has an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, and a B.A. from the Plan II Honors Program from the University of Texas at Austin.

He co-wrote a book titled Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard with his brother Chip Heath.
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