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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Up or down?

When we were young, we used to play a really fun game called,
‘color color what color do you choose?’
We had this paper model in hand, with grooves created for each of our four fingers. The moment one color is chosen, that person has to run and find an object of that color.

Then we grew up and started playing a different game:
‘Up or down, down or up, what approach would you choose?’
To the uninitiated, I refer to top-down and bottom-up approach. (To whoever coined these terms: You really didn’t realize that they have such obvious double meanings??).

This elaborate and unnecessary preamble is for showing my skepticism towards bottom-up approach. I think it works well in:

  • Market research: Forecasting
  • Coding: Creating solution modules for customers.

But where common sense and logic are involved, bottom-up approach totally messes up one’s mind.
For example, lets use the 2009 watch-word – recession. We know its here, and its doing a lot of damage (biggest understatement of this year perhaps). Consider the following exchange:
Q: How do you prove that recession is affecting international trade?
A: Simple, look at the export-import levels between countries.

Q: Well, um, they seem to have increased in the last month of 2008.
A: But recession is here. Q3 and Q4, show a downward trend right?

Q: Oh , well, so do Q1 and Q2.
A: Ignore that. That could have been due to oil price increase..

The above is, thankfully, a hypothetical example ( They do show a perfectly logical downward trend – whew!).
But, this is what happens when we know the end result. The data, current as well as historical, help us in validating the results, albeit subjectively.

Most of the time, our thinking is also bottom-up. For example,

  • A highly advertised beautiful scenery spot will appear beautiful even if it is just overlooking a bunch of dry trees and shrubs.
  • I-phone is a ‘value-for-money’ product even if it lacks some basic mobile features (the dictionary for one!)
  • Rollercoaster are scary-exciting rides because they go upside down, though we don’t feel much of it.

In all these cases, we have the conclusion fed into us. We just back it up with data supporting the advertised claims, and form the main body of the matter.

Reminds me of the Ishikawa or Fish-bone diagram, and how easily it can be misused. Ishikawa would have named himself after hearing someone say:

What a fultoos time-pass Kishi ka wah wah

or maybe its an acronym of:

It’s a Shit k(c)Ausing Wasted Analysis

Ok, perhaps not that either.

This post has been inspired by Michael Crichton’s book State of Fear. I am not for or against global warming, but its true that whenever a change in climate occurs (“its hotter than last year”, “we haven’t had such rains in over 20 years”), we just use one phrase (including me) – It’s the effect of global warming.


antbrain said...

Very valid point. We do tend to generalise a lot of things based on the big picture, but how far can one cover with his/her inquisitiveness?

LOL about Ishikawa! nalla velai andha aalu idha paakaradhuku munnadiye mandaiya pottan! Nicely done!

Kunal Chandra said...

Aah! so from fiction to philosophical to now more mundane professional vices. Well done! thats lot of progress in short time.

On this one particularly:

Most of the times bottom up and top down approach share a complimentary rather than an either/or relationship. So you make hypothesis and then validate it with observable data. Of course things like Apple i-phone etc are judged by the end consumer in a very impulsive emotional manner and so these reviews do not generally rely on any of the two approaches. But more scientific (in mentality) people generally use the two together very effectively.

Archana said...

Hey Kunal,
Professionally, I don't find top-down or bottom-up approach ambigous. But the amount of risks involved in bottom-up is hazaar times more than the former, wont you say?
but of course, more than the professionala spect, I am skeptical about its usage in our personal aspects of life. Involuntarily, we use bottom-up approach, and it may not be correct all the times.

Oi Ash, thanks for Ishikawa.. i thought it was pretty juvenile!! Glad you liked it.. yeiyee!

kanti said...

Hi Archana,

I landed on your page from ashwin's blog.. i liked ur blog..the content was good and made a good reading and i liked ur writing style.. the opening and then the funny part and then the end.. keep it up!!

Archana said...

Thanks Kanti! Its so nice to see your name in my comments section!

balaarjunan said...

Very True. The acronym is a good thought.

And thanks for bringing back the memories of FOUR CUPS(the paper model)

Archana said...

Hey Bala, Thanks! :-)
I left playing that game when I turned 11.. unfortunately, I don't even remember how to make it now.