I first heard bestselling author Dan Heath on Dax Shepard’s podcast, Armchair Expert. He and Dax had a lively discussion about Heath’s book, Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen.
With colleague Damon Colaluca we have initiated a book club with a group of nonprofit consultants. Upstream is our first book to read and discuss. Without hesitation I can recommend this book to anyone. It’s an obvious help for those working in social services, but there is truly something in it for everyone. There’s a bit of Occam’s Razor afoot that we choose to ignore. He offers a story about a woman who couldn’t see the stage around the person in front of her. It took her a while to realize she could just move her chair. The simplest solution is usually the right one.
Upstream Prevention Is More Effective
Simply put, Heath gathers stories and data demonstrating that intervention and postvention are less effective than upstream prevention. It’s hard to believe that we can prevent all ills of society, but as the research shows, there are upstream preventions to almost everything. Many solutions require systems change that will take many years and concerted effort from many collaborators. In other words, collective impact.
Heath first tackles the common problems that lead us to miss the real solutions. He labels them as problem blindness, a lack of ownership, and tunneling. He then outlines seven questions to guide groups or agencies searching for the upstream issue to address, hopefully repair, for long-term results.
The magic questions to explore leading to successful upstream solutions are:
- How will you unite the right people?
- How will you change the system?
- Where can you find a point of leverage?
- How will you get early warning of the problem?
- How will you know you’re succeeding?
- How will you avoid doing harm?
- Who will pay for what does not happen?
Intrigued? Read the book. You will not be disappointed.
Leslie A.M. Smith founded McCormick L.A. in 1994 offering public relations and marketing consulting to nonprofits and small businesses. She recently published Laws of Promotion. The 50-page promotional guide for small businesses and local nonprofits is available now on Amazon.