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Top-Down vs Bottom-Up

7 Examples of Top Down

Top-down is an approach to thinking, action, organization and design that begins with the highest level with progression towards the lowest level. The following are common examples that may serve to illustrate this concept in more detail.


The human brain commonly engages in top-down processing. For example, visual processing whereby you first establish that a form is a human and then work to identify details such as identity. This may progress to extremely detailed processing such as reading the emotion in someone's face.


Beginning analysis with large scale things and moving towards detail. For example, an investor who begins by looking at which industries are likely to perform well in the coming decades who then works to identify trends in those industries and firms that are likely to outperform.


Designing high level structures and then progressing to low level details. For example, a vehicle design team that designs the overall form of a vehicle before progressing to details such as motor, battery and interior. This is typically iterative as changes to the top level structure may be required as you get into the details.

Decision Making

Considering the large factors in a decision before considering details. For example, a family that decides what neighborhoods they most want to live in before shopping for a house.


Forming the large elements of strategy before planning details. For example, an ecommerce company that decides to productize its computing platform as a high level strategy before developing more detailed strategies to execute on this vision.


Top-down management is a command and control style of management whereby managers are arranged in a hierarchy. A command issued at the top of an organization passes down the chain of command from manager to manager to team. This can be contrasted with bottom up management whereby teams propose their own strategy to superiors up the hierarchy.


Top-down communication flows down a hierarchy. For example, executive managers communicate to directors and directors communicate to managers and managers communicate to teams. This is so inefficient and disconnected that it essentially has negative connotations.

Strategic Thinking

This is the complete list of articles we have written about strategic thinking.
Capability Analysis
Concrete Goals
Defensive Pessimism
Design Thinking
Grand Strategy
Known Unknowns
Organizing Principle
Silent Goal
Strategic Direction
SWOT Analysis
Systems Thinking
Top Down
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