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book cover image and link to amazon

This was essentially a book expanding on a simple idea. I'm going to put the idea below to save you reading the book (although if you find the story profound, I highly recommend you read the book!)

Two teenage boys were playing by a river. After a few minutes a small child was seen floating down the river desperately trying to stay afloat. One of the teens jumps in the river and swims the child to shore saving him. A few minutes later another small child is seen in the river, and the other teen swims out to save him and flops back on the shore exhausted. A few minutes later a third child is seen. The first boy takes off running upstream along the bank. The second boy asks him, "Where are you going? We need to save this kid!" The first boy responds:

I'm going upstream to stop whoever is throwing the kids in the river!

This is a simple story but highlights an immensely powerful idea. Sometimes when things are bad, it isn't the right decision to just keep fishing the kids out of the river. At some point, you have to look upstream and find out why the kids keep ending up there.

With my particular brand of anti-bureaucratic personality... this translates as "Sometimes we shouldn't continue to reward bad behavior and follow out-of-date and not-fit-for-purpose processes." Sometimes it makes sense to break them and start fresh.

This book has many examples of companies and people who have solved serious problems by looking upstream to find answers.

Shout out to Rick Randjelovic who turned me on to this book.


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