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Upheaval, Upgrade, & Upward

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

- Arthur Jones

A few of my colleagues and I recently formed a virtual book club. We each had our reasons for joining; maybe it was a break from the daily grind, a chance to increase our level of human interaction while working from home, or to expand and enhance our current skill sets. Whatever the reasons were, it was well worth it.

For our first read, we chose “Upstream”, by Dan Heath, It is a highly recommended read and I believed it had enough practical professional applications to justify doing a little reading and discussion on company time. Within the first 10 pages, in which Heath invoked the quote above, it was clear that the book could change the way we approached the work we do as Career Consultants.

According to Heath, “Downstream actions react to problems once they’ve occurred”, meaning that “Downstream” systems are a cycle of response, constantly putting out figurative fires and measuring each as a success, even if the “fire” was preventable. Conversely, “Upstream” thinking and systems aim to prevent problems from happening in the first place.

As a Consultant, I address and resolve the downstream “fires”, but the highest and best use of my time is when I work upstream, preventing those fires from ever happening. The personal, professional, and organizational implications of this kind of thinking are endless, but it really hits home when we apply this process to your career.

But how and where do you start? Begin with an acknowledgment and understanding of the stages you will encounter:

Upheaval | Upheaval occurs when you miss out on opportunities or suddenly realize that you are not where you thought you would be at this point in your career. This “ah-ha moment” is an inflection point where upstream thinking could be useful, but you will first need to work through some barriers to upstream thinking. Those include:

  1. Problem Blindness: “I don’t see the problem”. Complacency and comfort are powerful forces, and both work to reinforce downstream thinking. Don’t be afraid to question both the “how” and “why” of your current systems.

  2. Lack of Ownership: “The problem isn’t mine to fix”. People often feel as though they are at the mercy of the system and they can’t see a reason to expend the energy to move upstream.

  3. Tunneling: “I can’t deal with the problem right now”. Sometimes we may recognize the problem but are so focused on the fires in front of us that we can’t possibly move upstream and fix the real problems.

Upgrade | Once you have recognized the problem, taken ownership of it, and stepped outside of the tunnel to see the bigger picture, you can now begin to upgrade your systems. The possibilities are endless, but a few systems to consider include:

  1. Education: Waiting until your lack of professional education becomes a stumbling block is a downstream fire. Proactively seeking education that aligns with your future goals is upstream thinking. Fortunately, opportunities for education are endless; PGA Education, CMAA & GCSAA education, online and university education related to finance, leadership and marketing can dramatically expand your skill set.

  2. Experience: PGA Members may lament that they want to pursue opportunities that require experience that they haven’t gotten yet. Upstream thinking would identify the necessary skill sets for the job you want and proactively seek out opportunities to gain that experience BEFORE it is required. This could mean asking for more responsibility in your current position or seeking a “lateral” move that will provide more opportunities to expand your experiences.

  3. Engagement: Heath states that uniting the right people is a necessary component for Upstream thinking. Like PGA Tour players with a swing coach, mental coach, strength coach and nutritionist, you need to proactively build your team. Start with your PGA Career Consultant and then identify mentors who care about your growth and surround yourself with people with the skills to move you Upstream.

Upward | If you made it this far, you have done the hardest part. Now take your Upstream mindset and make significant changes to your personal & professional lives. Find leverage points that create significant gains, create measurable metrics to define your success, and constantly assess the quality of the new system you created. Maybe you’ll succeed, maybe you’ll hit a few bumps in the road, but I’ll be here to support you as you move Upstream.

Jason Boaz, PGA, ARWC

PGA Career Consultant

Serving the Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin Sections

PGA Certified Golf Professional

Advanced Resume Writing Certification


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