Book Notes: Upstream

Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Upstream presents a good overview of systems thinking.

Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets

The barriers

  • Problem blindness – there is no problem
  • A lack of Ownership – no one feels it is their problem to fix
  • Tunnelling – I don’t want to deal with this problem right now


  1. How will you unite the right people? bring together the right people & data to understand
  2. How will you change the system? how to change the system without negative impacts
  3. Where can you find a point of leverage? understand the problem. Saving money is not the goal.
  4. How will you get early warning of the problem? using data but be careful of false positives
  5. How will you know you’re succeeding? how could the metrics be games without actual improvement
  6. How will you avoid doing harm? close the feedback loop, be careful of over confidence
  7. Who will pay for what does not happen? align incentives so people/budget holder care

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.