Inversion is the idea that to solve a problem sometimes you can find the solution easier if you think about how not to solve the problem.
In other words, if you start thinking about the things that won’t get you where you want to go it may give you more insight into ways that will.
The key idea is that if you are stuck, you can flip the problem on its head and figure out what not to do.
- Investing: Part of being a good investor is simply avoiding the Enrons of the world.
- Relationships: One of the best things you can do for your own mental health is to avoid toxic people.
- Death (!?!): Charlie uses the example of where he will be when he dies … so he knows never to go there.
Why It Is Useful
Inverting a problem will almost always give you insight into the solution.
Case 1: Let’s say you have a job and you just received an offer from a different company for a job there. Which do you choose? If you’re struggling to decide, make a list of things you don’t want in a job and try comparing them that way.
Case 2: Maybe you’re debating between two different vacation destinations. They are priced similarly and would offer similar experiences. Try looking at it backwards instead to see which destination has things you wouldn’t like and compare them that way.
Case 3: Or maybe you’re trying your hand at investing in stocks and have narrowed it down to your top five. Which do you know the least about (ie, which aren’t in your Circle of Competence)?
How It Fits Into The Latticework
Inversion can be used to supercharge many other Mental Models.
For instance, to be persuasive we know we can use Social Proof, Authority, Reciprocity, and other tools to influence our target audience. However, sometimes it helps to think about what not to write or say in order to increase our persuasiveness. What might bore, confuse, or offend them?
We can also pair it with Constraints, where we know we need to address bottlenecks to make a system more efficient. In some cases though it’s not obvious where the bottleneck is, so we can use Inversion to work backwards starting with the parts of the system that are working most efficiently.
Think about the problems or decisions you are wrestling with now.
Is there a way to Invert them so you can look at them in a different way?
Sometimes the absolute best path isn’t clear, but we can still move forward if we know which path not to take.
- Book: Poor Charlie’s Almanac (Inversion is listed as one of the mental models in the back of the book)