All I want to know is where I am going to die so that I’ll never go there- Inversion a Power Tool

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 All I want to know is where I am going to die so that I’ll never go there- Inversion a Power Tool


  • Inversion is a radical but critical skill that nearly all great thinkers use to best of their advantage
  • It allows one to feel around in the dark for the downsides that exist without anyone knowing
  • The “new normal” of COVID-19- wherein strategies are being revisited in every field, inversion, if practices diligently, can be a powerful mental model

“Invert, always invert”- vouched German mathematician Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi. Should the world bite the bullet and deep dive into his widely acknowledged opinion as we face one of the nastiest pandemics of human race? Esteemed investors like Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett are believed to have applied the concept of inversion in their field, and their stance today is no mystery.

Jacobi’s Concept of Inversion

One of Jacobi's greatest accomplishments has been his theory of inversion which pertains to the field of algebra in mathematics. Mathematicians would vouch, an equation is usually simpler to solve if you invert it. This translates into Jacobi believing that one should always invert the problem or re-expressing them in inverse form to find the path to a solution. As historians suggest, Jacobi would often jot down the opposite of the problem that he aimed to decipher and instituted that this way, the solution often came to him way in a simpler and easy manner.

Image Source: Pixabay

Now, inversion has long been a common trick used by mathematicians but rarely practiced outside the discipline of mathematics.

But here is some food for thought- Inversion is a powerful thinking tool. It forces one to ponder over ideas that one would not otherwise consider and puts a spotlight on errors and barriers that are not obvious otherwise. It urges one to drive their brain in reverse, consider the opposite side of things in order to reveal compelling opportunities for innovation.

Today, as we face the Global Virus Crisis (GVC) that has gotten the better slice of global health, economic growth and markets, the world could benefit from the concept of inversion.

Breaking Down Inversion

Simply put, inversion is a way of going about what you desire to achieve in reverse. Some even refer to it as subtractive avoidance. Breaking it down, instead of only thinking forward, you can flip the problem in reverse and think backwards about what you do not desire to take place.

To further elucidate the concept of inversion, reminded of Warren Buffett’s business partner, Vice Chair at Berkshire Hathaway, and world-class investor Charlie Munger’s statement-

“All I want to know is where I am going to die so that I’ll never go there”

What Mr Munger emphasizes on is the fact that thinking about and planning for the opposite of what one actually desires to happen could give one a competitive advantage in anything they do. This counterintuitive way of thinking is not taught at the university as part of curriculum but has been deemed integral to solve the toughest of the tough problems in a unique way. As an icing on the cake, in the process, inversion is also believed to help people make good decisions consistently and evolve as effective problem solvers.

Why Is Inversion Relevant Today?

Inversion can help us figure out solutions to challenging problems that have been weighing us down. Currently, owing to the continuing repercussions of COVID-19, there has been nervousness, fear and tension prevailing in the stock market. Investors have been grappled by the problems that the virus has created and are finding it difficult to access the path for effective solutions with their decision-making abilities dwindling sporadically. With lockdowns that were placed, productivity that halted and social distancing that became the new normal, companies have been giving one of the toughest tests of all times in order to sustain and survive.

So much so, contemporary medical science too is dealing with a lot of information (and misinformation!) about the coronavirus as it undertakes an array of tests and trails for a vaccine yet to be invented to cure the problem that has swept the world off its normalcy.

This is when inversion can be a powerful mental model.

Subtractive avoidance or inversion is less likely to cause harm in times when innovation, new techniques, organizational changes need to address. If one can strike off all that one does not need amid the crisis hour, the path to having what is required would be made simpler. All the more, if inversion does not solve the problem, it will definitely help one avoid trouble and be aware of key things only and not be lost in different perspective (we are already dealing with a pandemic to cloud our minds!).

Investors, companies, and medics- can all apply inversion in their fields to help them organize their processes and eventually pace their respective works which currently remains in pipeline amid the pandemic.

However, we would not let this fact go- humans may not like changing their minds in a jiffy. They could be apprehensive of a hoard of mental and incentive-caused biases. They could also not want to be inconsistent in beliefs, attitudes, and ideas. Though inversion could challenge this, one must remember that the more one understands what will cause one to fail, the better equipped he/she/they are to make decisions.

Basic Guideline to Inversion

Now that we understand that reversing how one looks at a circumstance/ problem can open up new possibilities, extricate assumptions, make finding a solution much simpler and to a large extent, facilitate avoiding any trouble, let us look at a basic guideline one can form to practice inversion-

Bottomine- Consider Premortem

As we discuss inversion, premortem, the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem also deserves a spotlight. Simply put in a business setting, a premortem takes places at the beginning of a project and not end and intends to improve the project, rather it gets autopsied.

In premortem, participants can be asked all that they feel can go wrong if the project were to fail (as inversion outlines the worst-case scenarios). Independently, participants jot these down and there is a discussion wherein their premortem points are considered. Now, the one conducting this (business/project manager) can look for ways to strengthen the plan and better prepare for the project and all that it has in store. It is an effective way to spot the blind spots which otherwise get unnoticed, well that is why they are called ‘blind spots’ in the first place.

Time for spending less time on being brilliant and more on trying to be avoiding glitches? One could say, YES!


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