Wall Street Journal Bestseller
New York Times bestselling author Dan Heath explores how to prevent problems before they happen, drawing on insights from hundreds of interviews with unconventional problem solvers.
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. Cops chase robbers, doctors treat patients with chronic illnesses, and call-center reps address customer complaints. But many crimes, chronic illnesses, and customer complaints are preventable. So why do our efforts skew so heavily toward reaction rather than prevention?
Upstream probes the psychological forces that push us downstream—including “problem blindness,” which can leave us oblivious to serious problems in our midst. And Heath introduces us to the thinkers who have overcome these obstacles and scored massive victories by switching to an upstream mindset. One online travel website prevented twenty million customer service calls every year by making some simple tweaks to its booking system. A major urban school district cut its dropout rate in half after it figured out that it could predict which students would drop out—as early as the ninth grade. A European nation almost eliminated teenage alcohol and drug abuse by deliberately changing the nation’s culture. And one EMS system accelerated the emergency-response time of its ambulances by using data to predict where 911 calls would emerge—and forward-deploying its ambulances to stand by in those areas.
Upstream delivers practical solutions for preventing problems rather than reacting to them. How many problems in our lives and in society are we tolerating simply because we’ve forgotten that we can fix them?
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
One of life’s simplest truths can be the most challenging to put into action: The best solution is to prevent a problem from happening in the first place. Business guru Dan Heath (Made to Stick) shows us how many innovators have used this smart approach to disrupt their fields. As a narrator, he’s a straight talker, and he uses fascinating examples to illustrate how this proactive approach has paid high dividends, from lowering school dropout rates in Chicago to cutting down cases of domestic violence in Massachusetts. It’s better to act than react, Heath argues. The book’s central metaphor—that “swimming upstream” to address the roots of business challenges is far superior to passively dealing with preventable fallout—is easy to grasp and process. Reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell and the books by the Freakonomics team, Upstream will shift the way you think about problem-solving.