On Sedona, Failure, Upstream Thinking, and The Energy We Need in 2021

Hey everyone,

Happy Monday from Austin, TX!

Today’s newsletter is going out to 142 creators. We’ve added 4 people to the community since last week.

I spent last week in Sedona, AZ reflecting on my year and brainstorming goals for next. It was an amazing time to reflect, process, and reconnect with an old friend and myself.

Here’s what I have for you this week.

🏔On Sedona

When I moved from San Diego to Austin, I documented my journey in a Twitter thread. It is an amazing way to document my experiences, connect with others, and create a resource I can look back on later.

I did the same for my drive to Sedona.

Here’s the thread I put together:

⚠️On Failure

“Learn how to fail” isn’t a phrase you hear every day.

But failure is an essential component of the learning process.

In the past, I’ve struggled with learning things because of an aversion to failure. This makes learning new skills difficult because failure is an inevitable part of the process. Failure is a part of learning something new. But the framing of an “F” as bad and an end leads us to view failure not as part of a longer, ongoing process but as the end of the process.

Here are some thoughts I’m workshopping on failure:

🌊 On Upstream Thinking

Many of our solutions are reactive, not proactive.

We react to problems as they happen rather than proactively creating solutions. We are unwitting players in a perpetual game of Whack-a-mole where we bop one problem on its head only for another to appear.

Dan Heath calls this “downstream thinking.”

He shares this parable:

You and a friend are having a picnic by the side of the river. Suddenly, you hear a shout from the water. A child is drowning. Without thinking, you both dive in, grab the child, and swim to shore. Before you can recover, you hear another child cry for help. You and your friend jump back in the river to rescue her as well. Then another struggling child drifts into site. Then another and another. The two of you can barely keep up. Suddenly you see your friend wading out of the water to leave you alone. 

“Where are you going?!” you demand. Your friend answers, “I'm going upstream to tackle the guy who's throwing all these kids in the water.”

Instead of pulling kids out of the water (reacting to problems), we can move upstream and stop kids from ever ending up in the water in the first place (proactive solutions).

Heath differentiates between downstream and upstream thinking thusly:

"Downstream actions react to problems once they've occurred; upstream efforts to prevent those problems from happening. You can answer a customer's call and address her complaint downstream...or you can render that call unnecessary.

 “I’m defining upstream efforts as those intended to prevent problems before they happen or alternatively, to systematically reduce the harm caused by those problems." 

Upstream efforts requires a broader view of the problems we face, as individuals and as a society.

"The reality is that we can intervene at many points along an almost limitless timelines. In other words, we don't head upstream as in a specific destination, you head upstream as in a direction." 

There are innumerable opportunities for us to shift our focus upstream in our lives.

Instead of reacting to problems (say, spending 5 emails going back-and-forth scheduling a call), you can proactively create an upstream solution by deploying one of the available scheduling solutions.

Upstream thinking can help us live happier, healthier, and richer lives by freeing us to focus on the problems we choose rather than the ones we are constantly being forced to react to.

🔥On The Energy We Need in 2021

Samwise Gamgee brings the energy we need for 2021:

Transcript here:

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know.
It’s all wrong
By rights we shouldn’t even be here.
But we are.


It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were,
and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy.
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.


Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you.
That meant something.
Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.
I know now.


Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.
Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.


The world would be a better place if we could all channel some of that Samwise energy into our lives.

There are good things in this world, and they are worth fighting for.

That’s it for this week.

Until next time,

KB