Don’t search for a solution by thinking linearly; consider outcomes you don’t want to occur first.
So, rather than plot a one-year plan meticulously, think about all the ways things can go wrong. Figure out how you or the idea will fail so you don’t end up there.
By inverting a problem, you can better understand what you don’t want to happen and avoid adverse effects you would have otherwise invited.
Why Use It
Thinking forwards is additive and solutions-oriented, whereas thinking backward is subtractive and seeks to remove missteps. Using inversion, you’ll shine a light on roadblocks that are not immediately apparent.
Practicing inversion illuminates places where future risks may exist and identify patterns that could lead to failure.
When to Use It
Utilize this method during the ideation process to interrogate decisions before you’ve decided to move forward with a particular solution. By considering possible outcomes, you will prevent yourself from being misguided by your own bias.
How to Use It
Get comfortable acknowledging the opposite of what you desire rather than immediately confirming what you already consider to be true. By exploring the opposite of what you want to solve and questioning your assumptions, you will have more clarity about the best path forward.
Sometimes it’s possible to find or be a part of a project that has not turned out the way you’d hoped. You might think taking incremental steps is essential to fixing the issue, but many times it’s an illusion, and you could waste a lot of time moving rocks instead of boulders.
How to Misuse It
Utilizing inversion can help us see problems in their entirety, but it’s not useful if you don’t know much about the field of study. If your circle of competence is limited, then ignorance can play a factor in misunderstanding what the next steps should be.
While inverting a problem will not give you all the answers, the mental model will guide you in choosing a sounder path by figuring out how to avoid failure.
Where it Came From
Before the term “Inversion” was coined, Stoic philosophers Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, conducted an exercise known as a “premeditation of evils.” The activity helped folks envision a life of negative consequences as a way to choose one’s future.
Then came German mathematician Carl Jacobi who believed the best way to clarify your position was to restate math problems in reverse and expanded the stoics concept to a new field.
Eventually, Howard Marks and Charlie Munger picked up inversion thinking and popularized it for myriad applications.
What Are Mental Models?
Mental models are thinking tools that help guide and shape our perceptions of the world. They simplify complexity so we can understand life better, make decisions confidently, and solve problems.