Inversion – Invert, always invert!
Inversion is a mental model to look at a problem from a different angle ... backwards!
“Invert, always invert” . . . so said Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi, the German mathematician. Though being German he probably said, ‘man muss immer umkehren’, in expressing his belief that the solution of many hard problems can be clarified by re-expressing them in inverse form.
Typically, we consider a problem in the same way that we phrase it in our mind or as it is written, then set out to solve it from there. This is referred to as the ‘forward way’. We have a problem or a task to resolve, and we naturally put into forward looking terms.
The ‘backward way’, with Inversion, is to look at the problem from a different perspective in order to help solve the problem. But this does not come so naturally to us.
The ‘backward way’ is complimentary to the ‘forward way’. Inversion helps us gain a better overall picture of the problem, simply by posing the problem in a different way.
Combining both forward and backward ways gives us a technique to help us unlock problems.
Charlie Munger from Bershire Hathaway has used Jacobi’s maxim over many years. And he did ok!
The simple technique is to insert words like NOT or DON’T or CAN’T, which inverts the phrase.
- What career do I want to do? Becomes “What career don’t I want to do?”
- What can I do …? Becomes “What can’t I do?”
- Who can I trust? Becomes “Who can I not trust?”
A more complex approach to inversion is to ask the opposite of the original question, along the lines of what you do not want or what can stop you.
- “How do I lose weight?” becomes, “What will stop me losing weight?”
- “How can write more articles for my site?” becomes, “How can I prevent myself from writing 1 article a week?”
The answers to these questions will tell you what you don’t want. All that remains is for you to make a plan to avoid these things you don’t want.
The below video is a very good explainer from the Farnam Street blog about Mental Models.
Karen Holst from Start Within explains how Nirvana used inversion thinking to innovate and disrupt the music industry.
Some real world examples of this in action…
- Reverse Your Arrows – regarding patterns in programming and software architecture.
- How to reverse calculate a % age in programming – how one programmer needed to calculate a %age in PHP. Also useful outside of programming.
And finally, here is a perfect example of Inversion when investing your money . . .
The ancient Stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus regularly conducted an exercise known as a premeditatio malorum, which translates to a "premeditation of evils." 1 The goal of this exercise was to envision the negative things that could happen in life.
Premeditatio malorum - Stoics (AD 63-65) Stoic philosophers practiced the premeditatio malorum or premeditation of evils to envision the worst things that could happen in every situation. Man muss immer umkehren - Carl Jacobi (1820) German mathematician Carl Jacobi expressed that hard problems can be clarified by inverting them with his maxim 'Invert, always invert' ('man muss immer umkehren').
I can now safely say that I have been programming for the better part of my life. If you're like me, you might still be astounded by the amount of things you learn day in and day out, but the...
By Rod Matthews | Wednesday, April 17, 2019 | 0 CommentsCreativity and innovation happen when there is an inversion of what came before. An inversion of the status quo. Think of the great artists and musicians of our time. They dare to break the rules and go against the current standard to create new ones and the results are compelling.