January 24, 2024

Big-picture or ground-up?

Bottom-up – even horizontal – thinking is fashionable. Probably because people are fed up with hierarchy, command-and-control, being told what to do without any kind of consultation or consideration for what actually happens on the ground. Even the army doesn’t work like that any more.

But bottom-up thinking can never be the whole answer. It’s great for quick wins, incremental change and emergent consensus, but will miss opportunities for radical change with less effort.

The truth is what you really want is a combination of approaches, better labelled ‘Big-picture’ and ‘ground-up’.

‘Big-picture’ creates an overarching model and works towards it from abstraction to detail. It asks high-level questions – “How should we keep our promise?”, rather than “How do we open the office?”, and by doing so can remove whole chunks of low-level procedure that would otherwise go unquestioned.

‘Ground-up’ fixes immediate problems, builds detail and works towards abstraction. It ensures things work well at the coal-face, where the business meets it’s environment. By asking low-level questions, like “How do we make it easy for someone to access this resource?” or “How do we track progress?” it fleshes out the business Promise and makes it real. And by freeing up resource, it enables Big-picture thinking.

Of course what you really want is both at the same time. A rare skill in one person, but easily addressed by ensuring that people working with both approaches talk to each other often. That way each can spot where what the other has already built meshes with what they’ve done to a create new opportunities neither would have spotted alone.

In other words, a process, however informal for intentionally marrying the two approaches makes both more productive.

Discipline makes Daring possible.

Ask me how.