Solve Tough Problems by Inverting Them

Author

HERBERT LUI

December 18, 2014

Often we have so many options that it’s tough to choose among them (this is also known as the paradox of choice). If you’re at a crossroads and need to make a tough decision, it can help to understand what you want by examining what you don’t want first.

Shane Parrish writes at Farnam Street:

Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi, the German mathematician said, “invert, always invert” recommending that “many hard problems are best solved when they are addressed backward.

This model is one of the most powerful thinking habits we can adopt. “Indeed,” says Charlie Munger, “many problems can’t be solved forward.”

Think about what makes life good. Now invert the process and think about what would make life bad. Knowing what would make life bad gives you a shortlist of what to sidestep. Both thinking forwards and thinking backwards can result in action, however, despite your best intentions, thinking forward can in fact increase the odds that you’ll cause harm, while thinking backwards is actually less likely to cause harm – call it the avoiding stupidity filter.

You can solve a lot of hard problems or make tough decisions by removing options. You can also use a similar technique and reverse the situation to overcome status quo bias.

How We Can Improve Our Decisions | Farnam Street

Photo by Yudis Asnar.

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