Book Review: Upstream

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I read Heath brothers books and liked them. I thought Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath would be the same kind and quality. I may buy another book they write together, but I will never buy another book that Dan Heath wrote by himself.

I expected deep thinking and fresh insights. Upstream is light on analysis. The business issues are standard business problems dressed up in a new suit of words.

The opening example in the book is about a problem at Expedia. Many customers phoned for a copy of their itinerary after they’d completed their reservations on the Expedia site. They should have been able to do that themselves on the site. Result: soaring call center costs.

No one noticed the problem because it wasn’t in anyone’s job description to look for it. You can find similar problems in other business books. The one that came immediately to mind for me is the opening problem in Jan Carlson’s book Moments of Truth.

You must notice a problem to solve it. If you do notice it, it’s usually a standard business problem. Why do customers do that? How can we arrange things so they don’t need to?

There a LinkedIn case in the book, too. There, the issue was getting more people who signed up for a trial to continue using it when the trial expired. Every business that has offered a subscription or a trial period has faced that problem. They solve it in different ways.

That’s two business cases. Based on Heath brothers books I read, I expected  primarily business examples. Nope. There are four examples of companies solving business problems.

Two of them are Expedia and LinkedIn. The other two are a 40-person accounting firm and a comfort food restaurant. The other examples, like the one on the Chicago school system or the one on domestic violence, were interesting reading, but not what I was expecting.

The other Heath Brothers books was the little aids, like summaries and checklists. They help  you understand the content and how to apply it. There was none of that in this book.

In A Nutshell

Upstream is not nearly as good or insightful as the books the Heath Brothers did together. If you’re considering buying this book, first borrow a copy from the library to see if you want to spend your money on it.

If you are thinking of buying Upstream to help you in your business, don’t bother. There’s not much business-related content in the book. What is, is neither new nor insightful.

You can check out some of my highlights and notes from this book on GoodReads.


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