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Inversion. The Crucial Thinking Skill Nobody Ever Taught You

How Inversion Can Transform Your Thinking

By Edison AdePublished 3 months ago 7 min read
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Inversion Thinking. © Buzzedison

Look, we all know the grind — constantly searching for that next flash of inspiration. Hitting up conferences, ploughing through books, networking like crazy…hoping someone gives us the clue we need to level up our work.

But have you ever stopped to wonder if we’re chasing the wrong thing? What if ideas alone aren’t the magic formula? Maybe the real game-changer is how we think, not just what we think about.

I mean, you can cram your brain full of every buzzword and blueprint out there. But if your mindset stays stuck in one gear, what good is all that extra “data”? We need to upgrade, you know? Start shifting how we process problems instead of just piling on more processes.

When we train ourselves to question everything, that’s when real progress happens. An open mind sees what a closed one misses every time. So, forget info dumping — we should practice flexing our frameworks. One little mind shift can spark an idea earthquake if we give it room to spread.

I’m not saying knowledge is bad — it’s great fuel. But an adaptable attitude is the engine that gets us where we’re going.

Enter inversion, a counterintuitive thinking technique that turns conventional wisdom on its head. It’s about asking the opposite of the obvious question, challenging assumptions, and exploring the unexplored. It’s about seeing the world through a different lens, one that reveals hidden opportunities and unconventional solutions.

Growing up, I was fascinated by philosophy. I loved wrestling with big ideas and seeing the world from different perspectives. One of the most powerful philosophic tools I got to experience was inversion — a technique for thinking critically by intentionally taking the opposing view.

At first, inversion felt unnatural. I was used to confidently defending my own positions, not scrutinizing them from the other side. But the more i explored works on inversion and listening to modern-day philosophers, it pushed me to invert our thinking, and over time I gained a new appreciation for how it could sharpen my views and broaden my understanding. It’s a skill that has served me well in business too, helping me recognize my blind spots and avoid getting trapped in confirmation bias.

Yet, as powerful as inversion is, it’s almost never explicitly taught. Our education system trains us to defend our answers, not attack our own assumptions. Leaders are expected to remain convinced in their visions, not constantly playing devil’s advocate against themselves. And in an age of polarized politics and social media echo chambers, taking the opposing perspective is seen as betrayal, not intellectual honesty.

No wonder so few of us know how to do it. But if we want to overcome our cognitive biases, make smarter decisions, and find common ground on complex problems, inversion might be one of the most important thinking skills of all.

Inversion is not just a thought experiment; it’s a powerful tool that has been used by some of the world’s most innovative minds.

Consider these examples:

IDEO, a renowned design and innovation firm, uses inversion to challenge assumptions and generate fresh ideas. They once asked themselves, “What would it be like to design a hospital that was patient-centric rather than disease-centric?” This led to the creation of a revolutionary hospital design that focused on patient comfort, healing, and overall well-being.

Amazon, the e-commerce giant, famously asked itself, “What if we start with the customer and work backwards?” This inversion led to the development of their now-iconic customer-centric approach, which has been instrumental in their success.

Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple, was a master of inversion. He constantly questioned the status quo and challenged his teams to think differently. This led to groundbreaking innovations like the iPhone and iPad, which transformed the tech industry.

A Technique for Open-Mindedness

Inversion works by starting from a position you disagree with and trying to build the strongest possible case in its favour. You deliberately assume your own view is wrong and search for evidence, logic, and rationale that could justify the alternative perspective. It’s a fact-finding mission aimed at understanding other sides rather than confirming your own.

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When practised systematically, inversion can train your brain towards more open-minded thinking in several ways:

First, it counters confirmation bias by compelling you to scrutinize information that contradicts your preexisting beliefs. Often, there are nuances to opposing views we miss by just dismissing them outright. Inversion rewards exploring all logical possibilities rather than clinging to initial gut reactions.

Second, it improves perspective-taking abilities. Having tried on an alien mindset, you develop more empathy for “the other side” and why reasonable people might think differently than you. You come to see complex issues have multiple valid interpretations rather than obvious “right” and “wrong” answers.

Third, inversion surfaces blind spots and weaknesses in your own arguments that others may exploit. It primes you to preempt counterarguments and strengthen vulnerable logic before facing real criticism. Nothing bolsters a case like being able to effectively address its counters.

Finally, inversion cultivates cognitive flexibility. Instead of reflexively retreating to prepackaged conclusions, your mind becomes comfortable exploring unpredictability and contradiction. You learn to be less attached to any one viewpoint and more adaptive to changing evidence and trade-offs.

Practicing Inversion

So, how do you put inversion into practice? Here are a few techniques I’ve found useful:

Swap assumptions: When evaluating an issue, consciously challenge any underlying assumptions you’re relying on. For example, if the argument is that “We should limit regulations to help the economy,” counter with “We need more oversight to protect people.”

Appoint a “devil’s advocate”: Choose someone you trust and have them vigorously argue the opposite stance for a set time, even if they personally agree with you. You both have to put real effort into imagining the strongest possible objections.

Map objections: For any proposal, systematically brainstorm all plausible downsides, drawbacks, and contingencies others might cite against it before unveiling it. Push past easy answers to less obvious concerns.

Red team reflection: Regularly set aside time to think through how ideological opponents or critics might deconstruct your own latest works, decisions, or recommended policies looking for vulnerabilities.

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The Rewards of Inversion

When I started incorporating inversion into my work, the effects were striking. It improved my class discussions by helping me see past superficial disagreements to deeper areas of convergence. It made brainstorming more constructive by ensuring critical viewpoints weren’t overlooked.

In my consulting practice, inversion caught flaws in early client recommendations that could have caused expensive redesigns downstream. Leaders said my analyses felt more comprehensive because I anticipated counterarguments before they surfaced as objections.

Personally, inversion has been a guard against overconfidence and made me more comfortable with shades of grey. It’s liberated me from always having to be “right” and instead focus on truth, common ground, and mutual understanding. I feel it’s developed my ability to disagree agreeably while still advocating my perspectives passionately.

Of course, inversion isn’t easy. Resisting confirmation bias to scrutinize your own reasoning takes discipline. And our minds naturally crave certainty over complexity. But whenever I start to fall back into premature conclusions, I try reminding myself there are always at least two sides to every story worth considering.

The rewards of inversion far outweigh any discomfort of bending your thinking in unconventional ways. If used systematically, it can help solve otherwise intractable problems, build durable consensus, and arrive at wiser decisions. It cultivates both intellectual humility and confidence through open-minded self-examination instead of rigid self-righteousness.

Inversion is not easy. It requires us to step outside our comfort zones, question our beliefs, and embrace the uncomfortable. It demands a willingness to challenge the status quo and explore the unexplored. But the rewards are worth it.

Practical ways to incorporate inversion into your thinking and decision-making:

Ask opposite questions. Instead of asking, “What should we do?” try asking “What should we not do?” This forces you to consider the potential downsides of your options and can lead to more thoughtful decisions.

Challenge assumptions. Don’t take things for granted. Question the underlying assumptions behind your beliefs and decisions. Are they based on facts or on intuition?

Consider the worst-case scenario. What could go wrong if you pursue this course of action? Envisioning the worst-case scenario can help you identify potential risks and make more informed decisions.

Embrace constraints. Limitations can actually foster creativity. Instead of seeing constraints as obstacles, view them as opportunities to think differently and come up with innovative solutions.

Seek out diverse perspectives. Surround yourself with people who think differently from you. Their unique perspectives can challenge your assumptions and open your mind to new possibilities.

In a world that often rewards conformity and conventional thinking, inversion is a breath of fresh air. It’s a reminder that the most innovative ideas sometimes come from asking the opposite question, challenging assumptions, and exploring the unexplored. So, embrace the power of inversion and unlock a universe of new possibilities for yourself and your business.

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About the Creator

Edison Ade

I Write about Startup Growth. Helping visionary founders scale with proven systems & strategies. Author of books on hypergrowth, AI + the future.

I do a lot of Spoken Word/Poetry, Love Reviewing Movies.

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