Protip: Close Your Laptop and Think

How to discipline your research: avoid bottom-up thinking.

Bottom-up thinking, in research, puts you at the mercy of the information you’re seeking. It might mean looking on the internet for insights related to your goal, but with no clear question. Without that question, you end up down rabbit trails that waste your time.

A top-down approach might be thinking of questions you have about your audience, and then ranking them by importance, and then going to the internet with those searches. If you refer to your questions often, it keeps you grounded.

Bottom-up thinking clutters your mind. Top-down organizes it. Bottom-up thinking is when the newspaper is telling you what to worry about. Top-down is when you’re focusing on something important to you.

  • Top down forces you to organize your thoughts and start with “why.”
  • Bottom-up puts you in stimulus-response mode. You often forget what you’re looking for.

There was a saying at my old job: “Plan your day, or your day will plan you.” And nowhere is this more true in research…I mean seeking out the things that will really make a difference in your activities.

So, “Close your laptop and think.”

If you’re still not sure how to do it, do this: Go to a coffee shop without your laptop, and without your phone. Bring paper and something to write with. Spend a few minutes thinking about your product/service.

  1. Answer the following:
    1. What are we selling, really?
    2. Who’s it for?
    3. Why does it matter to them?
  1. Now list your assumptions about those things. Start with
    1. “does it really matter to them?”
    2. “Can this audience be broken down into segments a little better?”
    3. “Is what we’re selling (telling them) really the thing we want them to hear?”
    4. And then list anything that you’re either not sure about or that you just want more info about.
  2. Think about the questions you have. Prioritize.
    1. What do you need to know today that, if you knew, could help you know how to execute? Don’t worry about how you’ll get the info, just write it.
    2. Write down all your questions, and choose your top 3.
    3. Now, who do you know who can give you that info or do the research for you?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, don’t look it up. That’ll just distract you, putting you in a bottom-up processing spiral.

But if you hold out and stick to discipline, then congratulations, you just got out of the research box. You’re now less-likely to waste money on your content strategy, campaign, website or rebrand.

If you want more on this topic, read or listen to “Solitude in Leadership” by William Deresiewicz.