Bottom up thinking - what is it?

Bottom up thinking - what is it?

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Mlodinow has book Elastic thinking, which sounds interesting and where he mentions bottom up processes/thinking; which he equates with elastic thinking.

I have watched numerous videos about it, and even read some sample chapters of the book - but to my surprise, it is still unclear to me what exactly he means by bottom up thinking?

One unclear quote from the book is:

Elastic thought is where your new ideas come from. Imaginative, original, and non-linear, it is “bottom-up” thinking, in which insights percolate into the mind, seemingly from nowhere.

Another unclear quote:

Elastic thinking is about stretching your mind and using 'bottom up' processing in the brain rather than the top down executive functions that drive analytical thinking

Can someone please bring some simple and concrete examples from daily life, of what is bottom up thinking?

ps. His book is based on research and says it is known term in science community, this elastic thinking/bottom up thinking, and hence my hope people here may know what is it.

Hutchinson, B. (2002), an article in the book Synergy Matters by Adrian M. Castell may help in understanding what is meant by bottom up thinking and the opposite, top down thinking.

[T]he term 'top down' is used to describe an approach to problem solving where the problem space is defined first. The worldviews of the participants are used to conceptualise the desired state of the proposed system. Once this is achieved, the system is developed within this boundary. The components, or subsystems are derived within the context of the predefined desired state. The term 'bottom up' is used to describe an approach where no assumptions are made about the boundary of the problem space. The behaviour of component parts are rationally observed to determine the properties they have. Management decisions, or system designs are then based on the observed behaviour of components.

An example given in the conclusions is:

[I]nvestigating a system failure in bottom up mode would look for causes at the element level, or more precisely, at their interactions. The top down mode would tend to look at the overall system, and would put 'blame' on the system itself and how it functions, rather than emergent properties of system element interactions.

Think of it like a brick building. You need to build it from the bottom up, with each brick being correctly placed to form the correct shape etc. If the bricks are placed differently, you may get a different building, or maybe you will get the same building but badly constructed.

Take the following as a more detailed example comparison…

There is a team of researchers working on a task and each member inputs their findings into a computer system which analyses the results and comes up with a conclusion.

The program relies on accurate information from each team member entry but there was a slight error in a couple of entries producing an incorrect conclusion by the system.

A top down thinker would blame the computer system analysing the results. A bottom up thinker would analyse what the system was analysing and how, leading to them finding the real cause.


Hutchinson, B. (2002). Bottom up thinking. In Synergy Matters (pp. 445-450). Springer, Boston, MA. doi: 10.1007/0-306-47467-0_75
Preview available in Google Books

The Psychology of Satisfaction and Happiness

Does a combination of positive events and circumstances result in happiness or does a happy mindset result in positive circumstances?

Researchers have struggled with that question and it’s an important one. Many self-help books tell us that if we just change our thinking, then success and happiness will follow. But what if it’s the other way around? What if you must first do things to improve your overall well-being, with your initial attitude being irrelevant or minimal? Which approach is most accurate? If someone is unhappy, which path should one pursue?

To answer this question, several years ago researchers looked at both at the same time, putting nearly 200 psychology students through a series of tests. Specifically, they wanted to see what impact four areas of daily life would have on one’s perception of their happiness — their physical health, the amount of daily hassles in their lives, their overall view of the world, and their way of thinking that deals with real-world situations and problems.

What did their research lead them to conclude?

They concluded that happiness works both ways and that there is no single “secret.” For example, they found that the more daily hassles a person reported, the lower his or her reported level of happiness. Similarly, people who reported high levels of physical symptoms also tended to report high levels of daily hassles and see the world as being less benevolent — both of which contribute to less than optimal level of well-being.

At the opposite end, the research showed that if someone had a general disposition towards happiness or life satisfaction, then they tended to report fewer daily hassles, better physical health, and seemed to cope better with real-world situations. In that case, the personality caused the others to occur.

This early research in happiness is consistent with more recent studies which suggest one’s level of happiness is a combination of genes, circumstances and direct control. In other words, happiness is a combination of who you are, where you are and what you do. While psychologists debate the percentage of each one of those “slices” of the happiness pie — what is clear is this: the cause and effect works both ways. It helps to have a happy disposition, but it’s not a necessity. Doing certain things can improve one’s overall well-being, in spite of any hardships, circumstances or personality influences that may stand in the way.

Source: Integrating top-down and bottom-up structural models of subjective well-being: A longitudinal investigation. By: Feist, Gregory J., Bodner, Todd E., Jacobs, John F., Miles, Marilyn, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 68, Issue 1

A Knowledge-based society

We, especially in Europe and the western part of the world, live in a knowledge-based society, where the problems are complex and the solutions are not that straight-forward anymore. The rules are diffuse and there is not one single solution to the complex problems most of us are facing in their jobs. New competition and disruption appears every day. Change is unavoidable. Is it still possible for a few persons to oversee a whole organization and to know what the best way to solve problems in all areas of the organization is?

“A knowledge-based society refers to the type of society that is needed to compete and succeed in the changing economic and political dynamics of the modern world. It refers to societies that are well educated, and who therefore rely on the knowledge of their citizens to drive the innovation, entrepreneurship and dynamism of that society’s economy.” – The Organization of American States

Forms of knowledge

There are two kinds of knowledge: explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge can be transmitted between individuals. It often appears in written manuals, data or scientific formulae. Tacit knowledge, however, is difficult to formalize, thus making it hard to share or even communicate. It refers to personal, subjective insights or intuitions.

Knowledge creation

Knowledge is essential in our dynamic and fast changing world. So how is new knowledge created?

Knowledge is created by making the know-how of the individual systematically available to a larger group.

The SECI Model

In their article Nonaka and Konno describe knowledge creation as “a spiraling process of interactions between explicit and tacit knowledge. The interactions between these kinds of knowledge lead to the creation of new knowledge.” They have identified four stages.


In the first, the socialization stage, tacit knowledge is shared between individuals. Through spending time together and exchanging information personal insights are shared. This leads to forming a larger self, where an individual accepts the tacit knowledge of another person.


The second stage is called externalization. In this stage the tacit knowledge is expressed in comprehensible forms that can be shared with others and understood by them. The ideas and intentions of the individuals fuse, thus building a group of shared thoughts.


Combination marks the third stage of the SECI model. Explicit knowledge is systemized so that it becomes usable for other groups.


In the last stage, internalization, the individual identifies relevant knowledge for one’s self. Through defined concepts, strategies or methods the explicit knowledge of the organization is internalized by the individual.

“Spiral Evolution of Knowledge Conversion and Self-transcending Process” from Nonaka and Konno

The Best Approach

There is no single approach that’s right for all investors, and the decision between top-down or bottom-up investing is largely a matter of personal preference. But, it’s worth noting that these two investment styles are not mutually exclusive.

Many investors combine top-down and bottom-up investing when building a diversified portfolio. For example, an investor might start with a top-down approach and look for a country that’s likely to see rapid growth over the coming year or two. They might then take a bottom-up approach within that country by looking for specific investments, such as companies with low price-earnings ratios or high yields.

The key to successfully using these techniques is identifying the correct criteria and analyzing them in a wider context. For instance, if price-earnings ratios are depressed in a specific country, it could be due to a larger macroeconomic risk factor, such as an upcoming election or conflict. Investors must carefully consider all of these factors when making investment decisions to avoid making any costly mistakes.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.

Bottom up thinking - what is it? - Psychology

Bottom-up vs. Top-down Processing

There are two general processes involved in sensation and perception. Bottom-up processing refers to processing sensory information as it is coming in. In other words, if I flash a random picture on the screen, your eyes detect the features, your brain pieces it together, and you perceive a picture of an eagle. What you see is based only on the sensory information coming in. Bottom-up refers to the way it is built up from the smallest pieces of sensory information.

Top-down processing, on the other hand, refers to perception that is driven by cognition. Your brain applies what it knows and what it expects to perceive and fills in the blanks, so to speak. First, let us look at a visual example:

Look at the shape in the box to the right. Seen alone, your brain engages in bottom-up processing. There are two thick vertical lines and three thin horizontal lines. There is no context to give it a specific meaning, so there is no top-down processing involved.

Now, look at the same shape in two different contexts.

Surrounded by sequential letters, your brain expects the shape to be a letter and to complete the sequence. In that context, you perceive the lines to form the shape of the letter “B.” Surrounded by numbers, the same shape now looks like the number 󈫽.” When given a context, your perception is driven by your cognitive expectations. Now you are processing the shape in a top-down fashion.

Next, watch this video for an example of top-down processing with auditory stimuli. Note that at the end, once you have heard the full sentence, you can understand it even when it is broken up again. A “phoneme” is just a basic unit of speech sound.

Watch: Phonemic Restoration Demo / Examples ( )

To the right is one final example of top-down processing. From a bottom-up perspective, you should see a bunch of meaningless blobs. However, our brain is wired to detect faces, which, from a biosociological perspective, is among the most important stimuli in the world. So the floating blob becomes an eye, and from there we construct a nose and a mouth, and the fact that the picture is labeled as “face” tells your brain that is what it is supposed to see. So here is the twist… instead of a face, now look at the image and see a saxophone player wearing a big hat. Some of you may have noticed that from the beginning, but for most, being told there is another image there will alert your brain to search for the pattern.

So again, with these top-down processing example, your brain adds meaning what you perceive based on what it knows or expects.

Top-down strategies dictate to control

Top-down strategies help keep people aligned toward a common goal - if the path to get there is . [+] clear.

Traditionally, leadership theory dictates that strategy comes from the top. In certain organizational cultures, this can be effective – particularly when controls are needed to ensure quality or safety. As we slid into this pandemic, top-down strategies were essential. People at all levels needed to know that their employers were going to keep them safe – and what precautions employees would be expected to take. Information had to be communicated quickly and widely to ensure everyone was coordinated. This is when top-down works best.

A few months ago, in South Korea, a top-down strategy proved essential to saving lives in a recent example. When there was a COVID-19 outbreak in a call center in a Seoul high-rise, a “decisive intervention” was quickly put in place that “included closing the entire building, extensive testing and quarantine of infected people and their contacts.” Coordinating all of the businesses within that building and mapping out the infected and exposed was no easy task. But it proved successful. The spread of the disease was contained to a single floor and the majority of those infected were call center employees who sat near employees who were infected. Decisive action mattered.

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How To Know If You Are A High-Potential Employee

There can be drawbacks to this kind of approach. In top-down environments, employees have a mission and vision to focus on. But oftentimes they struggle to see how their current work fits with those goals. In most organizations, if you stopped a random employee and asked to hear the company’s strategy, you’d get a blank stare. Most of your employees don’t know what drives your profitability or how you work to differentiate your offering in the market and keep it that way. They know how to do the job they have been asked to do. In the trenches, that can feel less like strategy and more like process. If the people doing the work don’t know what they are working toward, how effective can your strategy be?

Top scientists get to the bottom of gay male sex role preferences

It&rsquos my impression that many straight people believe that there are two types of gay men in this world: those who like to give, and those who like to receive. No, I&rsquom not referring to the relative generosity or gift-giving habits of homosexuals. Not exactly, anyway. Rather, the distinction concerns gay men&rsquos sexual role preferences when it comes to the act of anal intercourse. But like most aspects of human sexuality , it&rsquos not quite that simple.

I&rsquom very much aware that some readers may think that this type of article does not belong on this website. But the great thing about good science is that it&rsquos amoral, objective and doesn&rsquot cater to the court of public opinion. Data don&rsquot cringe people do. Whether we&rsquore talking about a penis in a vagina or one in an anus, it&rsquos human behavior all the same. The ubiquity of homosexual behavior alone makes it fascinating. What&rsquos more, the study of self-labels in gay men has considerable applied value, such as its possible predictive capacity in tracking risky sexual behaviors and safe sex practices.

People who derive more pleasure (or perhaps suffer less anxiety or discomfort) from acting as the insertive partner are referred to colloquially as &ldquotops,&rdquo whereas those who have a clear preference for serving as the receptive partner are commonly known as &ldquobottoms.&rdquo There are plenty of other descriptive slang terms for this gay male dichotomy as well, some repeatable (&ldquopitchers vs. catchers,&rdquo &ldquoactive vs. passive,&rdquo &ldquodominant vs. submissive&rdquo) and others not—well, not for Scientific American , anyway.

In fact, survey studies have found that many gay men actually self-identify as &ldquoversatile,&rdquo which means that they have no strong preference for either the insertive or the receptive role. For a small minority, the distinction doesn&rsquot even apply, since some gay men lack any interest in anal sex and instead prefer different sexual activities. Still other men refuse to self-label as tops, bottoms, versatiles or even &ldquogay&rdquo at all, despite their having frequent anal sex with gay men. These are the so-called &ldquoMen Who Have Sex With Men&rdquo (or MSM) who are often in heterosexual relations as well.

Several years ago, a team of scientists led by Trevor Hart at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta studied a group of of 205 gay male participants. Among the group&rsquos major findings—reported in a 2003 issue of The Journal of Sex Research —were these:

(1) Self-labels are meaningfully correlated with actual sexual behaviors. That is to say, based on self-reports of their recent sexual histories, those who identify as tops are indeed more likely to act as the insertive partner, bottoms are more likely be the receptive partner, and versatiles occupy an intermediate status in sex behavior.

(2) Compared to bottoms, tops are more frequently engaged in (or at least they acknowledge being attracted to) other insertive sexual behaviors. For example, tops also tend to be the more frequent insertive partner during oral intercourse. In fact, this finding of the generalizability of top/bottom self-labels to other types of sexual practices was also uncovered in a correlational study by David Moskowitz, Gerulf Reiger and Michael Roloff. In a 2008 issue of Sexual and Relationship Therapy, these scientists reported that tops were more likely to be the insertive partner in everything from sex-toy play to verbal abuse to urination play.

(3) Tops were more likely than both bottoms and versatiles to reject a gay self-identity and to have had sex with a woman in the past three months. They also manifested higher internalized homophobia—essentially the degree of self-loathing linked to their homosexual desires.

(4) Versatiles seem to enjoy better psychological health. Hart and his coauthors speculate that this may be due to their greater sexual sensation seeking, lower erotophobia (fear of sex), and greater comfort with a variety of roles and activities.

One of Hart and his colleagues&rsquo primary aims with this correlational study was to determine if self-labels in gay men might shed light on the epidemic spread of the AIDS virus. In fact, self-labels failed to correlate with unprotected intercourse and thus couldn&rsquot be used as a reliable predictor of condom use. Yet the authors make an excellent—potentially lifesaving—point:

Beyond these important health implications of the top/bottom/versatile self-labels are a variety of other personality, social and physical correlates. For example, in the article by Moskowitz, Reiger and Roloff, the authors note that prospective gay male couples might want to weigh this issue of sex role preferences seriously before committing to anything longterm. From a sexual point of view, there are obvious logistical problems of two tops or two bottoms being in a monogamous relationship. But since these sexual role preferences tend to reflect other behavioral traits (such as tops being more aggressive and assertive than bottoms), &ldquosuch relationships also might be more likely to encounter conflict quicker than relationships between complementary self-labels.&rdquo

Another intriguing study was reported in a 2003 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior by anthropologist Mathew McIntyre. McIntyre had 44 gay male members of Harvard University&rsquos gay and lesbian alumni group mail him clear photocopies of their right hand along with a completed questionnaire on their occupations, sexual roles, and other measures of interest. This procedure allowed him to investigate possible correlations between such variables with the well-known &ldquo2D:4D effect." This effect refers to the finding that the greater* the difference in length between the second and fourth digits of the human hand—particularly the right hand—the greater the presence of prenatal androgens during fetal development leading to subsequent &ldquomasculinizing&rdquo characteristics. Somewhat curiously, McIntyre discovered a small but statistically significant negative correlation between 2D:4D and sexual self-label. That is to say, at least in this small sample of gay Harvard alumni, those with the more masculinized 2D:4D profile were in fact more likely to report being on the receiving end of anal intercourse and to demonstrate more &ldquofeminine&rdquo attitudes in general.

Many questions about gay self-labels and their relation to development, social behavior, genes and neurological substrates remain to be answered—indeed, they remain to be asked. Further complexity is suggested by the fact that many gay men go one step further and use secondary self-labels, such as &ldquoservice top&rdquo and &ldquopower bottom&rdquo (a pairing in which the top is actually submissive to the bottom). For the right scientist, there&rsquos a life&rsquos work just waiting to be had.

*Editors' note (9/17/09): The article originally stated in error that the shorter the difference in length between the second and fourth digits of the human hand—particularly the right hand—the greater the presence of prenatal androgens during fetal development.

In this column presented by Scientific American Mind magazine, research psychologist Jesse Bering of Queen's University Belfast ponders some of the more obscure aspects of everyday human behavior. Ever wonder why yawning is contagious, why we point with our index fingers instead of our thumbs or whether being breastfed as an infant influences your sexual preferences as an adult? Get a closer look at the latest data as &ldquoBering in Mind&rdquo tackles these and other quirky questions about human nature. Sign up for the RSS feed or friend Dr. Bering on Facebook and never miss an installment again.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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What Is a Top-Down Policy?

The top-down policy, also referred to as autocratic leadership, is a management process driven by a business’ upper level of executives.

Senior project managers create company-wide decisions that trickle down to lower departments. The decisions are first weighed on variables like frequency and severity, and then made based on the higher or lower levels of such variables. Upper management gathers and acts upon the knowledge, which employees carry out.

This policy type relies on a hierarchy of high versus low rank employees — the high ranking individuals rely on it for the decision of tasks and goals, and the low ranking employees to complete tasks and achieve goals. This structured programming of management leads to neatly defined subsystems of employees and departments. Sometimes referred to as a stepwise design or decomposition, a system and its goals are broken down into compositional sub-systems in order to gain insight into the smaller aspects that make up a larger system. This format is made more specific with the assistance of black boxes, which make the backward-looking approach easier to follow as upper management pushes down decisions. There is a distinct splitting of work between employees in different departments. This delegation of tasks is sometimes referred to as reverse engineering or a big picture outlook because of the way larger goals are fragmented into small tasks that are then handed down to lower level employees.

There are many industries in the workforce that find this business approach especially appealing. In particular, designers, software developers, and engineers are drawn to the top-down policy because reverse product engineering often leads to the best final outcome. Similarly, investors leverage this policy because it is non data-intensive and analyzes the entire economy rather than the ebbs and flows of an individual business or sector of an industry. The top-down style is also leveraged across companies in an effort to budget effectively.

Top-down budgeting assesses the larger budgeting strategies of a company and allots a certain amount to certain departments, events, and employees. Well-known, popularized figureheads who own companies also leverage this approach. For example, the Martha Stewart Living company, owned and managed by lifestyle expert Martha Stewart, utilizes the top-down approach — therefore, Stewart makes the decisions, holds the most equity in the company, and drives the brand awareness due to her worldwide popularity.

The perks of top-down approach make it widely utilized across many industries. These benefits include the following:

  • Decreased Risk: Since the highest level of management is also usually the most informed and most knowledgeable about the business, there is a decreased risk involved in the decision-making process when lower level employees are taken out of the equation.
  • Strong Management: The upper authorities in a company will be able to determine best practices and reach goals easier with decisions created and enforced at the highest ranks of a business. Should you need to make immediate changes, a top-down change (also known as an executive-driven change) can come into play to resolve any problems within an organization, bypassing a slower decision making process involving lower level employees.
  • Good Organization: Tasks are determined and filtered down company lines without any confusion because business goals are set by upper management and will not be affected by outside opinions.
  • Minimized Cost: Lower level employees are free to complete their own tasks unique to their role in the company and aren’t saddled with the responsibility of setting company-wide goals.

Of course, there are also some downfalls to the top-down approach:

  • Limited Creativity: Employees are siloed in their responsibilities and are unable to contribute to the overall goals of the company — sometimes leading to frustration and a lack of motivation to perform.
  • Dictatorial: The approach can seem oppressive to the employees who aren’t a part of the process.
  • Slow Response to Challenges: When a challenge arises as a result of a decision, it can take time for upper management to establish a solution because there are limited minds contributing to decisions.

What Is a Top-Down Approach in Business?

Companies utilize the top-down approach in order to assess, determine, and implement business decisions made by upper executives.

The processes are streamlined and communicated to lower rank employees, who carry out these tasks. Consequentially, projects are more easily managed, and risk is decreased significantly due to strategic decisions created from the top management. This approach relies on the executive level to decide how to prioritize, manage, and conduct everyday processes.

What Is Bottom-Up Communication?

Bottom-up communication revolves around the inclusion of all employees, their ideas, and their perceptions of the business in order to make the most informed decisions.

In this case, a business invites the entire team to participate in the company’s management and decision-making process. Communication and an all-encompassing approach is a vital aspect of this style of management, lending itself to the appropriate name of bottom-up communication.

The bottom-up communication style of business leverages all of its employee’s perceptions of business and ideas for the company. This process allows the company to identify its most targeted — and most appropriate — goals. Bottom-up communication is sometimes referred to as the seed model, as small ideas from each employee grow into complex, organic goals that lead to eventual successes. In a sense, there is a merging of employees and each of their roles into a broader focus dealing with the entire company. This forward-looking approach considers each aspect of a company by taking in the respective employees’ inputs to make a better decision for the entire company.

There are many industries that benefit from this holistic style of business management. These users embody the use of a pieced together system that creates a more informed, complex company with targeted goals. Sometimes known as parsing, businesses analyze a sequence of information in order to determine its overall function and structure, which leads to the most comprehensive view of a project. This gives way to the most appropriate decision. Biologists, pharmacologists, and people involved in the homebuilding industry all use small, pointed pieces of a project or company to generate a targeted goal. Banking companies in particular, like Ernst & Young, use the bottom-up approach to analyze aspects of their company in comparison to the microeconomic variables of the economy. These companies in wide-ranging industries benefit from having a well-rounded perception before jumping to quick decisions that may not have a positive affect.

In practice, this approach is extremely successful and results in many benefits for the companies who utilize it. These pros of practicing bottom-up communication include the following:

  • Increased Company-Wide Communication: When every employee actively participates in the decision-making process, the overall communication among members of the organization will increase significantly.
  • Build Morale: All members of the business community will feel included and valued, which fosters a supportive and communicative environment where employees can thrive and grow together.
  • Share Solutions: A wide hearth of brain power goes into the problems of the company as they arise, which will result in quicker problem solving and more efficient solutions.
  • Increased Collaboration: Employees of all levels are granted the opportunity to discuss problems, bounce ideas off of one another, and build trust across departments.

Despite the benefits of the bottom-up communication style, however, there are some potential pitfalls:

  • Bogging Down of Employees: When all employees participate in larger decisions (that are typically saved for upper management), they can get bogged down by the sheer responsibility. Employees can be taken away from their own tasks and pulled into larger projects, causing them to lose precious time.
  • Slowed Time Creating Plans and Reaching Goals: When many people with varying ideas contribute to the company’s decision-making process, conflicts and disagreements can arise. This can lead to delays in making plans and reaching goals.
  • Inaccurate Reflections of Data: A variety of people working on the same projects simultaneously can cause skewed results and inaccurate decisions in the long term.

What Is the Bottom-Up Approach in Budgeting?

Businesses leverage the bottom-up approach in an effort to produce the most comprehensive budget plan for all departments, resources, and employees.

The approach gathers input from all members of the business and allots a certain dollar value to each department that is appropriate for their business needs. As a result of this inclusive approach to budgeting, every aspect of business is considered equally as the budgeting plan is created.

What Is Bottom-Up Approach in Project Management?

The inclusive nature of the bottom-up approach benefits project management. The open communication and shared solutions among all employees ensure that projects remain fluid and goals are achieved in a timely fashion.

As unforeseen events pop up during projects, targets are shifted through the open line of communication between business executive and lower-ranking employees. Collaboration fostered through the bottom-up approach gives businesses the transparency needed to maintain successful processes.

What Is Bottom-Up Leadership Style?

Keeping all employees, business processes, and departments in mind, leaders who adopt the bottom-up approach encourage input from all areas of the organization.

This leadership style allows for communication and continued fluidity as they are able to consider a greater number of opinions when making decisions. Rather than having a singular, overarching leader responsible for decision making, ideas are exchanged across a widespread group.

History of the Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approach

The development of the top-down and bottom-up approaches was a result of trial and error in managing, maintaining, and achieving success in a business. Although there are great differences in the two styles, both were created by developing a system that resulted in the most success, revenue, and employee happiness.

The top-down approach came to be in the 1970s, when IBM researchers Harlan Mills and Niklaus Wirth developed the top-down approach for software development field. Mills created a concept of structured programming that aided in the increased quality and decreased time dedicated to creating a computer program. This process was then successfully tested by Mills in an effort to automate the New York Times morgue index. Similarly, Wirth developed a programming language, named Pascal, that relied on the top-down approach to build this particular system. Wirth went on to write an influential paper on the topic, titled “Program Development by Stepwise Refinement,” that detailed the benefits of leveraging a top-down approach in project management, specifically within the software development field. From these studies completed by both Mills and Wirth, the top-down approach evolved into the popular management style discussed earlier.

The Origins of the Bottom-Up Approach

A more modern management technique, the bottom-up approach developed concurrently with a shift in focus towards Industrial and Organizational Psychology (I/O). Explained by the American Psychological Association (APA), I/O is defined as “the scientific study of human behavior in organizations and the workplace.” As I/O came to be a more widely-recognized study, there was a significant trend upwards in the use of bottom-up management. The field of I/O encourages employers to consistently value their employees and make their contributions to the company a top priority. This approach caused upper management to lessen their hold on decision-making power, and instead, allowed for lower ranking employees to contribute more frequently.

The Hawthorne Experiments, completed as early as 1924, found that employees who were given brighter lights at their work station were more productive than those who received dimmer lights. The belief behind this correlation was that employees were more likely to contribute more to the company when they felt cared for and valued. An advocate for the I/O movement and the bottom-up approach, Elton Mayo added to the human relations movement happening during the mid-20th century. Mayo believed that by improving the social aspects of the workplace, the company would ultimately benefit. Eventually, this led to the development of human resources (HR) departments. HR departments dedicated themselves directly to this newfound engagement to employees and their investment in the company. Even more radical divisions of bottom-up management have come to the surface in later years. One such approach is holacracy, which fully leans in to the bottom-up policy and is founded on ideas like transparent and moveable roles in a company, and a circular structure of authority instead of a vertical platform.

Industries that Use Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches

The top-down and bottom-up approaches have gained traction in certain sectors of the workforce. Sometimes a highly authoritative upper management and a delegation of tasks is better than employees with fluid roles and a large say in the decisions of a company, and vice versa. Below is a conclusive list of the industries that embody certain management styles over others.

  • Investing/Banking: The top-down approach of banking focuses on how macroeconomic factors of the economy drive the market and stock prices, and then make business decisions accordingly. This approach is sometimes referred to as the big data bottom-up approach because of the large influx of numbers used to make company-wide decisions. The bottom-up approach in banking deals with microeconomic factors, focusing less on market cycles and more on an individual company’s performance in comparison to the larger market. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, and there is no dependency between companies.
  • Nanotechnology: This industry utilizes both approaches for different purposes. The top-down approach is leveraged when developing molecular manufacturing strategies, whereas the bottom-up approach is ideal for developing conventional manufacturing strategies. In 1989, the Foresight Institute first applied bothy styles to the nanotechnology field.
  • Neuroscience & Psychology: The ways in which people process information, and how they consequently analyze it, is part of both the top-down and the bottom-up approaches. Sensory input is thought of as a bottom-up approach because someone takes in information from the environment in order to make an informed decision. Comparatively, higher cognitive processes are thought of as a top-down procedure because these functions are done with little voluntary thought or outside influence.
  • Public Health: The top-down approach in public health deals with programs that are run by whole governments of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) that aid in combating worldwide health-related problems. HIV control and smallpox eradication are two examples of top-down policies in the public health sphere. The bottom-up approach is more plausible when combating local issues, like access to health care clinics. This approach invites the input of community members to deal with issues that affect people in closer proximity.
  • Architecture: This category can be broken down based on two schools of art: the Ecole des Beaux-Arts School of Design and the Bauhaus. The former begins designs with a basic drawing plan that outlines a project in full, lending itself to a top-down approach. The latter starts by developing a small-scale system that will eventually become a larger, more architectural piece, making it a bottom-up approach.
  • Ecology: There are top-down and bottom-up structures that are part of our natural world. In some ecosystems, top predators control the structure of a population. This is an example of a top-down approach. In comparison, other ecosystems exist on a bottom-up approach. These ecosystems, like some marine ecosystems, rely on the productivity of the primary producer at the lowest level to maintain the functionality of the rest of the population.

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What causes low self-esteem?

Negative early experiences are very important for the development of low self-esteem. Some of the factors that make it more likely that a person will develop low self-esteem include:

  • Early experiences including punishment, neglect, or abuse. Early experiences such as abuse, neglect, bullying, or punishment are very important. Children who suffer these kinds of experiences often form the belief that they are bad and must have deserved the punishment.
  • Failing to meet other people’s expectations. You may feel that you are not good enough because you failed to meet someone else’s expectations – this might have meant your parent’s unrealistic standards – note that this does not mean that the expectations were fair or balanced in the first place.
  • Failing to meet the standards of your peer group. Being different or the ‘odd one out’ during adolescence, when your identity is forming, can powerfully impact your self-esteem.
  • Not receiving enough warmth, affection, praise, love, or encouragement. It is possible to develop low self-esteem even without overt negative experiences, but just through a deficit of enough positive ones. Without enough reinforcement that we are good, special, or loved, children can form the impression that they are not good enough.

Figure 1: Low self-esteem means having a low opinion of yourself. It is the product of our experiences and the sense that we have made of them.

What is the Top-Down Approach?

We came across the Top-Down Approach when we discussed the topmost part of the brain, the Prefrontal Cortex . This part is associated with thinking and logic, higher order emotion awareness, and speaking. Top-down emotions are conscious responses to how we think about our circumstances. For instance, kiddos can get anxious after deciding they haven’t studied hard enough for an exam. That’s a very cerebral response, not so much a biological one.

In short, it’s the higher brain or home of logic.

Additionally, top-down emotions occur in three steps:

Our thinking patterns make us aware of what is happening, so we give ourselves a quick pep-talk of what’s going down.

We feel something based on the thoughts ABOUT the stimuli.

Ever heard the notion that our thoughts control our emotions? Or changing how we think changes how we feel? At some point, we’ve all heard “If you think ‘right’, you’re in a better position to make healthier choices.

Well, I hate to break it to you. It’s not just some psychological “snake oil”, but the truth. Truth that is backed by neuroscience.

Watch the video: Bottom-up vs. top-down processing. Processing the Environment. MCAT. Khan Academy (May 2022).