Working Upstream

innovationInnovation and Working upstream

Michelle Adams is a VP at Gordon Training International, which carries on the leadership work of Dr Tom Gordon (one of my heroes). She alerted me to an excellent article in LinkedIn by Greg McKeown on innovation which captured a big piece of what I was talking about in my post on April 13, 2014, “A City, Police, and a Treacherous River.” It is about how we all need to work upstream. And we most effectively do that when we innovate.

McKeown’s post also reminded me of a similar thing we did when I was chief of police in Madison, Wisc. One of my officers suggested that rather than sanction drivers for bad behavior that we also think about citing them for their good driving behavior. Needless to say, motorists were shocked when they were stopped by police officers and “cited” for their GOOD driving behavior! But it was effective and generated a lot of community support.

Now take that a couple of steps deeper: with regard to youth, especially youth of color, how supporting good behavior and citizenship of our youth could help counter the negative feelings many of these youngsters have about police. Positive police-citizen contacts always trump the negative ones.

The point is that police need to encourage good behavior as much as they sanction the bad.

When innovation gets planted and practiced in policing, the sky’s the limit — and everyone benefits. Sure, it’s risky, but I think the benefits outweigh the risk.

Here’s what McKeown highlighted:

“Non-essentialists try to go big and force execution. Essentialists celebrate small acts of progress and build momentum.

“Think of the last time you were pulled over by the police while driving. Did you wonder to yourself: “Is this going to be a good ticket or a bad one?” Not likely. Everyone knows tickets are all bad, right? Yet at least one innovative police precinct in Richmond, Canada, thinks this is an assumption that ought to be challenged.

“The Way It Had Been Done. There is a well-established approach to cracking down on crime: pass new and harsher laws, set stronger sentencing, or initiate zero-tolerance initiatives. In other words, do more of what we already do—only more forcefully. For years, the Richmond Police Department followed these core and long-held practices of policing systems everywhere and experienced the typical results: recidivism rates at 60 percent and spiraling youth crime. That is, until a young, forward-thinking new superintendent, Ward Clapham, came in and challenged them.

“Why, he asked, do all of our policing efforts have to be so reactive, so negative, and so after the fact? What if, instead of just focusing on catching criminals—and serving up ever harsher punishments—after they committed the crime, the police devoted significant resources and effort to eliminating criminal behavior before it happens?

“The Innovation. Out of these questions came the novel idea for Positive Tickets, a program whereby police, instead of focusing on catching young people perpetrating crimes, would focus on catching youth doing some- thing good—something as simple as throwing litter away in a bin rather than on the ground, wearing a helmet while riding their bike, skateboarding in the designated area, or getting to school on time— and would give them a ticket for positive behavior. The ticket, of course, wouldn’t carry a fine like a parking ticket but instead would be redeemable for some kind of small reward, like free entry to the movies or to an event at a local youth center—wholesome activities that also had the bonus of keeping the young people off the streets and out of trouble.

“The Result. So how well did Richmond’s unconventional effort to reimagine policing work? Amazingly well, as it turned out. They invested in the approach as a long-term strategy, and after a decade the Positive Tickets system had reduced recidivism from 60 percent to 8 percent.”

To read Greg McKeown’s full post in LinkedIn CLICK HERE


  1. It sounds so simple “Perhaps there is greater glory in our society being seen as a hero fixing a problem by applying a bandaid to the wound then there is in prevention. Think about it. When was the last time you heard talk about the leaders who worked upstream and solved the problem of preventing a dozen drownings in their community. Look at what’s going on at the Justice Department now. The United States Attorney General has announced fuding of 15m to a texas college to better prepare law enforcement to respond to mass shooting incidnets. WHile that first responder safety is of paramount importance, should we perhaps be looking at preventing them in the first place? Doesn’t make alot of sense to me.


    1. True. Remember Don Ardell concludes his “Upsteam/Downstream” fable with these words: “That’s the way things are sometimes.” Nevertheless, the way things are sometimes compells me to write these blog and try and encourage you and I to go upstream and DO something!


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