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Perspective: Top down, bottom up

How might position impact your perspective when making decision?

Redwood cathedral outside Santa Cruz, CA

Back to the redwoods.... Consider this, what would the view be like from the top down? Contrasted with our view from the bottom up, from the top it would greener, brighter. The forest floor would be obscured from your view, blocked by inter twinging branches and leaves. It'd be windy up there. Your view would be expansive.

From the bottom, it is darker, the view is limited. The big picture is obscured. The details are close no matter which direction you turn. At the forest floor, you are at the root.

In a business context when does this matter? Often. Consider any of the following and the default perspective will impact the outcomes.

  • When leaders are defining goals for multi-layered organizations. Goal setting is a classically done in a top-down approach. Leaders have a view of the market and set goals. As a result, it is not uncommon for the goals to be disconnected from the practical realities of what the teams closer to the root can actually perform. A more effective shift might blend the two perspectives.

  • When a presenter is attempting to persuade. First, to whom are you presenting and what is the perspective that they value in decision making? From what is the perspective you are coming? If they are not aligned, consider a shift to match the audience. If they are aligned consider what information from the other would be useful context.

  • When a design team is creating new product features. Consider a design team following the top down perspective of the company leadership. This perspective may ignore the detailed customer needs and wants only visible from the bottom. Shift perspective to understand what the customer needs and wants.

  • When seeking a promotion. In this scenario you are likely looking upward to more senior levels in your organization. A focus on the details at the root will be less likely to compel advocacy for your promotion. If your focus does not consider the top down view of what the organization needs, your pitch may fall flat. Shift your perspective to a top down approach. Ask, 'What does my promotion solve at the next level?'


Take action by balancing perspectives

What is your default perspective when you approach a challenge, top-down or bottom-up?

This matters because the starting point, how the challenge or problem is defined, is significantly impacted by the parties default perspective. If we don't agree on the challenge or problem, we must tackle that first.

Here are a few exercises to help:

  • Consider your position, critically. Start with understanding where are you.

    • What is your position in the organization, closer to the top or the root? In the respective organization, how much positional power do you hold? How do you use it?

    • Does your perspective align with your position? Meaning if you are at the root, does your perspective see only what is around you or can you flex to imagine what a top-down perspective might be? Or are you functioning at the root but only considering the top? Is this appropriate to the environment?

  • Find a partner and ask questions. Seek out a perspective partner, one who by default operates somewhere else. Choose wisely. This needs to be someone you trust can keep a confidence and be completely honest. If you have positional power, be careful how you use it. Share your perspective / idea and ask what you might be missing? Specify what you are seeking - input on important details that might derail the idea, or environmental factors that you've missed. Listen without judgement and adjust. Acknowledge their partnership. A great place to start with your partner, ask: "For XYZ to work, from your perspective what needs to be true?" (My bias is to always have a partner with different perspective, so yes, this is a repeat)

Shifting perspective can unlock incredible potential, for you and those around you. Let's talk about how coaching with me can make this part of your regular routine. Use the link to schedule a free 30 minute chemistry meeting.

All the best, Audrey

About this photo: I took this in a redwood cathedral outside of Santa Cruz, CA while on a family vacation. It has inspired this blog series and I'm having fun shifting my perspective of it.

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