Upstream vs downstream

Sent by Jonathan Stark on March 17th, 2019

Why is “head work” more valuable than “hands work?”

By my definition, head work includes things like strategy, design, architecture, and planning. These are things that tend to happen upstream. In other words, activities that happen before or early in the timeline of a new endeavor.

Upstream activities are inherently more valuable than downstream ones because upstream activities have lots of significant downstream repercussions.

Hence the “upstream/downstream” metaphor. The effect of everything that happens upstream is magnified over time. The farther upstream you are, the more magnified things get (for better or worse, btw).

For example:

Doing a good (or bad) job designing a toilet for Kohler that will then be manufactured by the thousand and shipped all over the world will have orders of magnitude more impact on Kohler than doing a good (or bad) job unclogging my mom’s toilet will have on my mom.

A few things to highlight:

As with everything, caveats apply:

Moral of the story?

Head upstream my friends.

Yours,

—J