Solving Problems – Invert Your Thinking
Have you ever been stuck on a problem and couldn’t seem to find a way out? If so, you may want to thinking upside-down, or backwards, or … inverted.
What is Inverted Thinking?
The Inverted thinking model suggests that you can often solve problems by looking at them from the opposite perspective. Instead of asking what you need to do to achieve a goal, you ask what you need to do to prevent it from happening. By inverting the problem, you might discover underlying assumptions, hidden constraints, or alternative solutions that were not immediately apparent from the original perspective.
For example, if you want to lose weight, instead of asking yourself what you need to do to lose weight, ask yourself what you need to do to gain weight. By inverting the problem, you might discover that you are consuming too many calories or that you are not getting enough exercise. This alternative (and obviously overly simplified example) perspective can help you identify different solutions that you may not have considered before.
This can also be seen as similar to the “hole-poking theory” in which you look at solutions to a problem and identify all the ways they won’t work. The idea is to poke as many holes in ideas to get to a solid and sound solution that will withstand scrutiny and be more likely to succeed.
The Benefits of Inverted Thinking
Inverted thinking can help you think more creatively and identify different solutions that you may not have considered before. By focusing on what you don’t want to happen, you can often avoid making mistakes that could prevent you from reaching your goals. It encourages you to challenge your assumptions and think outside of the box. This manner of thought is highly beneficial to identifying blind-spots and other areas of potential failure early.
How to Think Invertedly
(Yes I know that isn’t a word, work with me here… there’s copyright on “_____ Differently” 🍏 😉 ) Using inverted thinking is simple. Start by identifying the problem you want to solve or the goal you want to achieve. Then, instead of asking yourself what you need to do to achieve it, ask yourself what you need to do to prevent it from happening or to cause it to fail. By inverting the problem, you may discover new solutions that you may not have considered before.
Here are some practical ways to use inverted thinking:
1. Run a Failure Pre-mortem
Imagine that your project or goal has failed. What went wrong? What mistakes did you make? How did it fail? By thinking through what could cause your project or goal to go horribly wrong, you can develop a plan to avoid those pitfalls. This is a great time to break out your Mural or Figma boards and put your Design Thinking skills to work at the same time
For example, if you’re launching a new product, instead of focusing on its successful launch, imagine that the product has failed to get traction. By inverting the problem, you might discover that you need to improve the product’s features, or that you need to target a different audience prior to launch.
2. Don’t Try To Win; Just Avoid Losing
Instead of focusing on how to achieve success, consider the inverse of success. Think about the kind of life you don’t want to lead or the kind of person you don’t want to be, and make sure you do everything you can to avoid that. Very much a realist’s approach to the world, knowing that not everyone can be #1, but that there is absolutely room on the podium for more than one. Perfection isn’t the goal, iterative improvement is; to be better tomorrow than you were yesterday.
For example, if you want to improve your productivity, instead of focusing on how to become more productive, think about how you can avoid being unproductive. By inverting the problem, you might discover that you need to eliminate distractions or that you need to set more realistic goals.
3. Ask Yourself One Simple Question
If you find yourself overthinking and overcomplicating, try asking yourself this simple question: “If this were easy, what would it look like?” This question can help you focus on what’s important and avoid getting bogged down by unnecessary details. Don’t work harder, work smarter… and often smarter means easier. How would a lazy person do it?
For example, if you’re working on a project and feeling overwhelmed, rather than focusing on how you can accomplish the entirety, ask yourself how you can simplify the project and make it easier to manage. By inverting the problem, you might discover that you need to break the project down into smaller tasks or that you need to delegate some tasks to others. Perhaps leveraging that new, shiny AI tool to take care of some of those mundane tasks for you can help free up time to the more difficult pieces with more thoughtfulness and intent.
4. Set Anti-Goals
Sometimes, when we’re so focused on our goals, we unintentionally end up with collateral damage (It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me). By establishing your goals and then inverting the situation, you can identify what you don’t want to happen and develop a plan to avoid those negative outcomes.
For example, if you’re trying to launch a new business, you should establish clear goals and then invert the situation to identify potential pitfalls in achieving them. By inverting the problem, you might discover that you need to avoid taking on too much debt, growing too fast, or that you need to focus on building a strong team before product.
So it won’t solve all your problems, of course, but inverted thinking is indeed a powerful tool to help you identify different solutions to problems. By focusing on what you don’t want to happen, you can often avoid making mistakes and achieve success more easily. So the next time you’re stuck on a problem, try poking some holes, looking at the opposite side, and inverting your thinking to see what new solutions you can discover!