Balancing Bottom-up and Top-down

A question I frequently encounter whenever I start a new information architecture project: What’s the right balance between defining an architecture from the top-down and leaving room for bottom-up structures to emerge?

The answer is different for each project. Some require a great deal of structure upfront, while others need just enough for bottom-up structures to emerge. The answer hinges on the type of environment we’re structuring, the team’s skills, the organization’s needs, and myriad other factors.

But what if this isn’t a dichotomy? What if we could design top-down structures broad enough (or perhaps deep enough) to allow for bottom-up organization to emerge organically? What architecture would lead to an environment that could be a receptacle for serendipity, happy accidents, improvisation — for humanity — while also accomplishing its business outcomes?