Waiting for it to reach crisis point…is a crisis – With Insight from Dan Heath and Jane McDonigal

UpstreamWhen you spend years responding to problems, you can sometimes overlook the fact that you could be preventing them.

We put out fires. We deal with emergencies. …we never get around to fixing the systems that caused the problems.

The US health care system is designed almost exclusively for reaction. It functions like a giant Undo button.
But it’s hard to find someone in the system whose job it is to address the question How do we make you healthier? (As distinct from How can we respond to the problems that make you unhealthy?)

Dan Heath, Upstream:  The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen


We don’t have enough baby formula for the babies in this country.

We knew that was a problem before it became a crisis.

Yet another church (The Southern Baptist Convention) has covered up a problem; and they are about to recognize that they are in the midst of a crisis…

We wait until it hits the crisis point before we act.  Time and again, we do this; throughout society.  Companies do this; schools do this; governments do this… we all do this!  All of us!

This strikes me as a bad way to face such a challenge – such a looming crisis.

I have presented a couple of books that , in different ways, say:  don’t wait until it is a crisis!  Act early; act NOW!

Upstream by Dan Heath is one.  He states that we really should learn to go upstream, and deal with, and stop, a problem before it becomes a crisis.  Here’s how he put it, in his book:

Downstream actions react to problems once they’ve occurred. Upstream efforts aim to prevent those problems from happening. …That’s one of the main reasons I wrote this book. Because, while we have a wide spectrum of available options to address the world’s problems, we’ve mostly confined ourselves to one tiny stretch of the landscape: the zone of response. React, react, react. …My goal in this book is to convince you that we should shift more of our energies upstream: personally, organizationally, nationally, and globally.Imaginable

The other book is Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything — Even Things That Seem Impossible Today by Jane McGonigal.  In it, she writes:

Were the most shocking events of the recent past really unimaginable before they happened? Ideas about the future can be useful because they help us prepare for a challenge before it happens; or because they give us time to try to prevent a crisis; or because they open our minds and inspire us to make changes in our lives and communities today.

I think there are three reasons why we put it off.

#1 – We hope that it won’t turn into a crisis. And, sometimes, it doesn’t.  But, if it does, that delay can be very, very costly.

#2 – We think we will save time, money, reputation, waiting until it “has to” be dealt with.  And, sometimes, this reasoning is true. But, if it is not, the reputation damage, and other damage, can be truly devastating.

#3 – (And, the reason I think is the biggest reason) – we are dealing with other challenges, other crises, on our plates right now.  If we can put this one off, that will help us today with other things.

But, if the crisis is big enough, when it does hit crisis stage, that can look like an unwise move indeed.

Whatever else we do, we have to learn to ask this question, over and over again – What are we putting off today that could become a true, gigantic crisis tomorrow?” 

Figure that out. Act on it; act quickly; act now.  It’s the smart play!

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