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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best-selling 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 20 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? 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2020 Dan Heath (P)2020 Simon & Schuster

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Excellent overview of the power of prevention

One the salesmen in my company forwarded me a blurb of this book— the first several pages— and honestly I thought it sounded pretty hokey. But I read the blurb and decided to drop one of my free credits on the pre-order. I’m glad I did!

This book is a great high level overview of how preventive measures can succeed, and (in general terms) the challenges that face preventive measures. We’ve all heard that “an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure”, but this book gives great examples of the issues that preventive efforts run into. They’re usually unsexy, disconnected from the final outcome, and often come across as more invasive than an after-the-fact solution.

As Dan says, we celebrate heroes and heroic actions. In a logical reality, the mere need for those heroic actions means that a system failed somewhere along the way. And yet, when preventers succeed, “if you’ve done everything right, they won’t notice you’ve done anything at all.”

I think this is a great book for anyone looking to kickstart preventive programs, whether in business or in the private sector. The author (also the narrator of the audiobook) is easy to listen to and I didn’t notice any recording issues. All in all, well worth the time.

5 people found this helpful

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Engaging, insightful, and really important

A fantastic book and an incredibly important book.
Especially at this time in humanity’s life cycle, this book is both a wake up call and a way shower to a better world. Read, share, and improve your world and the world of those around you.
Highly recommended.

2 people found this helpful

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Mixed review

I’ve been a very big fan of Brothers Heath for some time. I own all their books and appreciate their work. I was excited by this books concept but I found I don’t agree with some of the conclusions. Also, some of the writing approach didn’t appeal to me, and ultimately failed to convince me.
The early stories and examples in the book were excellent and entirely the strength of the book. Later examples I found to be off the mark, deficient in its analysis or even somewhat offensive.

Praising the example of prohibiting eviction in Rockford as an upstream solution for homelessness, doesn’t really seem like an “upstream” solution at all. That seems like a downstream problem in the making, for homeowner-landlords to loose their homes to investment banks.

Suggesting antibiotic interventions as an example of an all upside, no downside kind of intervention seemed to me to be unknowledgeable and lazy.

And the implied praising of “Cheeky Cheating” in the baseball analogy was bothersome. But admittedly my mood towards that story was colored by current events; large scale allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

The early stories and lessons however were strong, and made the purchase just barely worth keeping. But ultimately I can’t say I recommend this book.

1 person found this helpful

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I wish this was taught at schools!

one of the books I wish I can make every person read!
it changes your brain wiring

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engaging all the way

audio books are a tough "read" in general as we tend to reduce them to background sound at times, distracted by other senses or thoughts. In this book, the case studies, concise lessons, and pace keeps the reader engaged; gripping audiobook with good lessons to keep in mind!

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loved it! Fun and practical at the same time

Loved the book, and it certainly delivers on the Heath-brothers promise. Compelling stories, fresh insights, fun, and funny at times. Really well-written. I loved how they shared stories from the business sector, public sector, non-profits, and individuals alike. Got me thinking about how to tackle problems before the become problems. Glad I read it and would recommend for sure.

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Insightful overview of problem solving

From "problem blindness" to "who pays for what doesn't happen", an excellent overview of the challenges solving complex system problems and the techniques to address you can use to address them.

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Not what I expected

I was expecting more like the Made to Stick type of book. In Upstream, Chip Heath seems to be filling a liberal political agenda with every excerpt. He needs to spell that out in the beginning so people don’t waste their time and money. In Made to Stick, the business stories were relevant and thought provoking. Here, we get scenarios of school shootings, low income whining, evil hard working Americans making like hell for those who don’t have a lot. Bla, bla, bla..

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An ounce of prevention, prevents a pound of cure

Great true life stories supporting the old age saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is still as valid today as it was centuries ago. Loved it!

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Epic book

The way he breaks down how you can look to solve problems way before the even exist is amazing to me. this is definitely one of my most favorite books in a while as I work with culture change and changing mindsets.