Inversion Thinking

Ivan Aivazovsky, Ship in the Stormy Sea, 1887

Ivan Aivazovsky, Ship in the Stormy Sea, 1887

Charlie Munger famously said this about inversion

"All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there."

This was inspired by German mathematician Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi who often solved difficult problems following a simple strategy:

"man muss immer umkehren" (or loosely translated, "invert, always invert.")

Inversion forces you to uncover hidden beliefs about the problems you're trying to solve.

It improves your understanding of a problem by forcing you to do the work necessary to have an opinion as you're forced to consider different perspectives.

To practice inversion, spend time thinking about the opposite of what you want, and avoid all the things that could lead to that happening. i.e. work your way backwards in any problem.

Or to put it more simply, spend less time trying to be brilliant and more time trying to avoid obvious stupidity

a few examples

  • hosting an event: how would your guests have the worst possible time
  • shipping a new feature: how will the launch fail?
  • picking up a new habit: what obstacles prevent me from ever adopting this habit?
  • learning a new skill: how will I ensure I never gain proficiency?
  • a job interview: how will I give the worst possible impression / answer to important questions?
  • happiness: how can I stay miserable?
  • anything at all: how will I fail?

Watch Charlie Munger himself explain inversion himself.