Beautiful Models: Inversion

Inversion is a powerful tool to improve your thinking because it helps you identify and remove obstacles to success. The root of inversion is “invert,” which means to upend or turn upside down. As a thinking tool it means approaching a situation from the opposite end of the natural starting point. Most of us tend to think one way about a problem: forward. Inversion allows us to flip the problem around and think backward. Sometimes it’s good to start at the beginning, but it can be more useful to start at the end. (Shane Parrish)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Inversion is one of my favorite mental models. As it’s commonly thought of, it means ‘thinking backwards’, focusing on the opposite of what you want.

For instance, instead of asking ‘How can I succeed?’, asking, ‘How can I fail?‘”

“So focusing on the obstacles to success.”

“Yes. That however is but one application of the model. Inversion is a multi-purpose tool.”

“What’s the essence of the model?”

Metaphorically changing something into its opposite.

The change can be directional.

One example of this is wonderfully expressed by Ryan Holiday:

The Obstacle is the Way
The Art of Turning Obstacles Upside Down

Turning obstacles upside down is an instance of Inversion.

Upside down‘ here is what I call a directional metaphoric model.

Expressed as directional metaphoric models, the examples so far look like this:

Forward/Backward: Thinking backwards, rather than forwards.
Towards/Away-from: Moving towards obstacles, rather than away from them.

The latter can also be expressed using a different model:

Confront/Avoid: Confronting/Facing obstacles, rather than avoiding them.

The change can be substantive.

Changing one thing into another. The metaphoric model I like to use to describe it is Transmutation.

For instance:
Turning a negative into a positive.
Turning weakness into strength.

Another example is Nassim Taleb’s Antifragility model: thriving not in spite of obstacles, but because of them. Turning obstacles into fuel for your growth.

The change can be instrumental.

Changing between the two poles of a dichotomy. I like to call this Perspective Shifting. And the dichotomy can be artificially created for practical ends. When you see me use the pattern

model3 = model1/model2

that’s often a practical dichotomy.

Here Inversion is used as a meta-model.”

“What’s a meta-model?”

“In this context, a meta-model is a higher-order model that allows you to perform operations on other models, thus expanding their use.

For instance, joining two models to create a dichotomy – model which we could call Dichotomization – is a meta-model.

Similarly, switching back and forth between the two poles of a dichotomy – Inversion – is also a meta-model.”


About Dani Trusca

Playfully seeking wisdom

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