Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Top down or bottom up?

Top-down and bottom-up thinking are complimentary. Let's see why:

The alternatives (all images produced in bCisive Online)

Both top-down and bottom-up thinking cut across the critical / creative thinking divide:

Critical thinking
  • Structuring and categorizing (mainly bottom-up)
  • Hypothesis testing (top-down)
  • Argument mapping (top-down and bottom-up aspects)
Creative thinking
  • Brainstorming (bottom-up)
  • Mind-mapping (top-down)
  • Dialogue and issue mapping (top-down)
Let's look at what's good about each in visual form:

Some merits of working top-down

Some merits of working bottom-up

A combined approach

The pertinent "higher level" thinking skill is knowing which tool -- top-down or bottom-up? -- to use for which job.

As with all techniques, practising the skills is important -- first learn the rules of the game, follow them until they become internalized, then understand the limits of the rules and where to break 'em -- and then you can enjoy the benefits of these complimentary approaches.

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