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Inversion Thinking: A Different Approach to Solving Problems

by Syed Balkhi 5 months ago in advice
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Learn about how to flip problems around and make them easier to solve

Inversion Thinking: A Different Approach to Solving Problems
Photo by Karla Hernandez on Unsplash

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s long-term business partner, is a well-known investor, attorney, and businessman.

During a Q&A session, Charlie was asked if he used mental models to overcome our very human tendency to be biased. And his answer was powerful - he did use mental models and in particular, a model called ‘Inversion Thinking’.

Our brains are our most powerful tool. But they tend to create thoughts and feelings that are often biased and irrational. For example, when we have a get stuck in traffic in the morning and have a difficult time, we assume that the rest of the day is also going to be ‘bad’ even though it’s very unlikely. Being stuck in traffic doesn't automatically make for a bad day. We just think that. It's our moods that really affect how we experience the rest of the day.

Being aware of our minds’ prejudices and flawed thinking helps us to deal with irrational thinking. And we can apply mental models as guides to force our brains into thinking more clearly about a situation or problem.

In this post, I’m going to dive into inversion thinking in particular and how it can help us lead happier lives. Want to learn more? Just keep reading.

What is inversion thinking?

Let’s look at the example of inversion thinking that Charlie Munger himself shared in the panel. During WW2, Charlie had to create weather reports that increased the chances of fighter pilots traveling and returning in safety. As you can imagine, a task like this is stressful and you need to be highly accurate in the reports you create.

Charlie approached this task in an innovative way. Instead of looking for the best weather conditions to fly in, he asked ‘What’s the best way to ensure that our pilots are endangered?’

He created an objective that was the opposite of what he wanted to achieve. And he then looked at all the reasons that would make such a negative outcome possible.

Once he learned what factors would lead to the most unwanted outcomes, he would then do the opposite.

In a nutshell, inversion thinking is addressing a problem so that you figure out all the wrong things you can possibly do to mess something up. For example, if you want to get more positive reviews for your online store, then set the opposite objective - to get as many negative reviews as possible.

How would you achieve this? By being rude to customers, by ignoring customer support requests, by creating poor quality products, by shipping your products late, and so on.

When you have a list of all the things you can do badly that will lead to the outcome you don’t want, you know exactly what pitfalls to avoid.

Why use inversion thinking

Now, let’s take a look at why you should consider making inversion thinking a part of your mental tools for problem-solving.

We’ll look at ways that it adds to our well-being and ability to grow.

Get new insights

The process of inversion thinking turns a problem on its head. And this allows you to see the problem from different angles which leads to new ideas for solving it. It is important to take time out once in a while to look at what we do from different perspectives so that we can keep things fresh and innovate quickly.

Pre-empt mistakes

When we address a problem head-on, we look at the most obvious solutions and factors that create the problem. We’re operating with blinders, in a manner of speaking.

But when you turn a problem around and use inversion thinking, you can think up problems and factors that you might never have figured out otherwise. And so, the power of inversion thinking lies in the fact that you can prevent mistakes that might have otherwise slipped by you.

Create motivation

A powerful way to apply inversion thinking is to leverage it to motivate yourself. Think of a major goal you’d like to achieve, like qualifying for a scholarship or starting a business.

You could ask yourself ‘What would make me lose my scholarship?’ and ‘What could I do to ensure that I’m stuck at this job I dislike a year from now?’

The answers to such questions are illuminating and the idea of not getting what you want is terrifying too. When you frame your goals with inversion thinking, you get deep insights into why you should take steps every day to achieve your goals.

You’ll gain clarity into a future that you might miss out on if you didn’t keep studying every day or reached out to a customer today.

Back to you

There you have it. I’ve shared what inversion thinking is and how it helps us think differently. When you apply it to different areas of life, you also see benefits in the short and long term.

Why don’t you make a list of your goals and problems right now and apply inversion thinking to them?

You should see increased clarity and even motivation that will help you craft the life you really want.


About the author

Syed Balkhi

Syed Balkhi is the founder of WPBeginner, the largest free WordPress resource site. You can learn more about Syed and his portfolio of companies by following him on his social media networks.

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