3 Ways to Go Upstream

“What the world needs now is a quieter breed of hero, one actively fighting for a world in which rescues are no longer required. How many problems in our lives and society are we tolerating simply because we have forgotten we can fix them?” Dan Heath- Upstream

I just finished one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long time.  But what made the book great was that it took the thought-provoking a step further and provided some keen insights and tools about acting on the information.   Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, by Dan Heath is worth the read. 

As the subtitle implies, the premise of the book is that we spend so much time and resources on downstream issues.  It provokes a focus on the upstream to fix things before they happen.  How can we stop firefighting and be proactive? And how far upstream can we go? 

The three key takeaways in the book to focus upstream are: 

1. “Be impatient for action but patient for outcomes.”  Quoting Maureen Bisognano,  Heath says, “Change won’t come without action.”  And it also won’t come without patient diligence. 

2. “Macro starts with micro.”  The key takeaway here is that you can’t fix big problems without getting close to them. “You can’t help a thousand people, or a million until you understand how to help one.”  You have to name the person(s) and the problem by getting “proximate”. 

3. “Favor scoreboards over pills.” “The problem comes when the obsession with testing becomes a hindrance to scale and learning.”  You’ve got to be able to pivot once your impatient actions and microfocus tell you that a different direction is needed to get the outcomes and macro picture desired.   Ask yourself, “How can we make progress this week?” “Take ownership of the problem and start slogging forward.” 

The downstream problem I deal with the most in the work we do is workplace disengagement. Gallup estimates that the cost of disengagement in the U.S. is $450-550 billion per year.  The cost comes in many forms, such as turnover and loss of productivity, but this figure only quantifies the cost to business. It does not quantify the cost to individuals experiencing a misalignment in their job and/or organizational choices.  

Can you name someone (getting proximate) that has suffered the negative effects of hating what they do and where they do it?  You may be able to name yourself.   And if you can name someone or yourself, you know what negative effects come by working for the wrong organization because of workplace misalignment. 

We are working now through impatient action and scorecards, not pills to help tackle the disengagement problem with MatchFIT.  In seeking to help individuals and organizations find the right fit, we are workplace matchmakers.   We start upstream at the beginning of the hiring process, and our goal is to make the workplace better through meaningful employment relationships. 

We will be pitching our idea on Thursday, June 11th via the Alabama Launchpad competition. You can join us on Alabama Launchpad and EDPA’s (the host of the program) website and social channels to learn more about the details of our upstream effort.  The event starts at 6:00 pm and we are scheduled to pitch at 6:40 pm.

What problem are you trying to tackle upstream? 

Mary Ila Ward

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