Inversion: The problem solving strategy used by billionaires

In this article I want to introduce you to the fascinating concept of inversion. It’s a powerful strategy for solving problems of any kind. Once you apply inversion in your job you will find it much easier to decide what to focus your energy on.

Are you ready to learn something new? Let’s explore the topic!

Forward thinking: the common way we solve problems

The common way we approach problems is through forward thinking. We have a certain goal in mind and we ask: “What must I do to achieve X?”

Think of becoming wealthy — you would ask: “What must I do to become wealthy?”

Then you would brainstorm a number of actions:

  • get a highly paid job
  • limit your spending
  • save 25% of your income every month
  • invest your savings in the stock market

Sounds like a good plan, right? A solid game plan for becoming wealthy — or at least financially independent. Work hard, control your spending and save a big chunk of your salary for investment in the stock market.

Do you see any problems with this approach?

Anything that might jeopardize the plan of becoming rich?

For example:

  • What if the stock market blows up and you lose all your money?
  • What if you develop back pain and are unable to work full time?

Not good.

You need to watch out for risks

The more you think about potential obstacles you may face, you will find more risks: Loosing your job, going through a divorce, getting sued etc.

We don’t want to think about negative stuff like this. But it could happen and ruin your plan. No matter how much you focus on the right things (e.g. saving), you may still fail because bad things can happen.

The conclusion:

Success comes from taking the right actions and avoiding doing the bad stuff.

I hope you understand the consequences of this: When making a plan for some goal, it’s not enough to ask “What must I do to get there?” That’s only half the question.

The other question you should ask: ‘What must I do to fail at achieving X?’.

You basically inverse the problem. That’s the inversion method.

The Inversion method

Famous billionnaires have talked about inversion to solve problems, first and foremost Charlie Munger. He’s the business partner and co-investor of billionaire Warren Buffett. The whole idea is that by limiting your risks of loosing money in an investment, you create potential to make big profits in the long run.

You are not limited to use inversion for financial topics only. You can use it for any field.

Also in project management.

How you can use inversion in project management

The challenge in project management is that there are so many variables and things you need to think about. You have to coordinate dozens of tasks. Then there are so many people you need to talk to, and everybody wants a part of your attention. It’s too much for one person to handle. Unless you are an octopus of course.

image of an octopus

Inversion can help you cut through the noise and focus on things that really matter. Things that really move your project forward.

What you do is focus on the things that could go wrong:

Example 1:

“What could cause our construction project to fail? The soil may not provide enough stability. So we have to make sure we do a proper analysis of the ground before we begin with construction.”

Example 2:

Many IT projects fail because the requirements analysis wasn’t done properly. The customer will see the software after 6 months and say: This is not what we were looking for. You need to change this. And we also want this and that feature.

That’s a big issue. That’s why IT projects should carefully assess the requirements of the customer at the beginning of the project. As a project manager you can ensure requirements are thoroughly assessed by attending customer meetings, checking what your team has gathered in terms of customer needs and providing an early prototype which the customer can test.

These are just general examples of how you can use inversion.

Every project category has its own, specific challenges:

  • Construction projects face weather challenges
  • IT projects are challenging because of technical complexity
  • Research projects often face problems in data collection and analysis

If you focus on these challenges and make sure they are being monitored, you drastically increase the odds for completing your project in time and budget. The best thing is: You know every day what to focus your energy and attention on.

How are you going to apply inversion?

How can you use the inversion method in your specific project and how does it help you? I am curious to hear. Leave your answer in the comments below!

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