Being Open

On June 22, 2009, in Coaching, Enterprise 2.0, Web 2.0, by jason

One of the concepts of social computing or web 2.0 within organisations is “Bottom Up” vs “Top Down”. Top Down is the traditional lock-step military approach where taxonomy, ideas and processes are set by the senior people in the organisation  and employees are expected to conform to this inflexible model. Evidence suggests that this approach is not effective at tapping tacit knowledge, encouraging creativity, or obtaining commitment and encouraging passion.

What do you see below? A beautiful woman? A saxophone player? An elephant?


Figure 1: We have different mental maps. A one size fits all approach does not work well for humans

A “Bottom up” approach is about facilitating an open conversation with a larger group of people so that everybody interested can contribute their thoughts, ideas, and aspirations. A Bottom Up approach provides valuable access to knowledge that cannot be easily described or identified in advance. Further, the act of listening to and empowering people unleashes their creativity, initiates passion and is great for building healthy relationships.

“People don’t need to be managed, they need to be unleashed”
Richard Florida 2002

So where else can I be bottom up?

I have been thinking about how I can be more bottom-up with my teaching. In the past I have always tended to invite ideas, suggestions and feedback: but how can I truly empower my students? I would love to incorporate some kind of “choose your own adventure” pathway into their experience. For example, in my Enterprise 2.0 unit where they are to blog on weekly podcasts, can I involve the students themselves into selecting the best podcast for that week? Can they provide insight into the framework of the planned discussion? How can I unleash my students?

Bottom Up vs Top Down is also a leadership paradigm. I recently delivered a workshop to Queensland Heath on Facillatative Leadership (in collaboration with my colleague Pat Smith). This workshop aimed to enhance deep listening; clear communication; influencing; and the ability to capatalise on a group’s best thinking. We trained leaders in coaching principles to lead by enquiry (bottom up) as opposed to leading by advocacy (top down). These diagrams explain the concept on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Continuum:


Figure 2: Bottom Up (Facilitation) is much more effective than Top Down (Traditional)


Figure 3: Top Down (Advocacy) is often reflected and ineffective


Figure 4: Bottom Up (Enquiry) is much more effective at obtaining commitment and building relationships

knowing the right answers will only get you so far. To get further, you need to know the right questions. Let me know if you want help with asking powerful questions – questions that impact on thoughts and feelings. Perhaps I can help you in my role as a coach. Also, take a look at this excellent presentation: Google Tech Talk Coaching Series: Impact Communication

~ Jason

P.S. There is no Elephant (I made that one up)


4 Responses to Being Open

  1. […] the top-down approach has changed to bottom-up model of doing business, as Jason Watson explains in Being Open. Social technology enables us to watch where people are coming from, when they are coming and what […]

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