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Inversion- A Mental Model


Sometimes, when dealing with forward-looking goals, it’s not just about providing solutions but also removing obstacles. So when we think of attaining any goal, there are two elements we need to take care of- augmenting the forces for and removing the forces against them. 

Imagine you are putting together your job goals for the year.

Thinking forward, you would plan for the activities and tasks you need to undertake to achieve your goals. This is the equivalent of augmenting the forces for-focusing on tasks that would be like the wind in your sails to move you towards the goals you have set for yourself. This is what we all usually do when creating plans.

To deal with our plans in a forward-looking manner, you would ask yourself questions like-

  •  What must I focus on doing to achieve this outcome?
  • What can I do to deal with this problem?
  • How can I succeed in this project? What actions must I take?
  • What strategy or process should I deploy to help me get to where I want to be?


Another approach one needs to take care of when looking into the future. Imagine all those obstacles that act as friction and impede one from attaining the goals. If you could imagine those negative elements, you would ideally look for solutions and tricks to deal with them. This is the equivalent of anticipating and removing the forces against.

To deal with the goals or issues on the inverse means asking yourself questions like

  • What are the possible reasons for this project failing?
  • What are all the ways I can fail?
  • What factors could lead to my objectives not being achieved?
  • What actions, if I don’t take, can prevent me from achieving the outcome I am looking for?
  • What gaps in my current strategy or process can hold me back from getting to where I want to be?

This is the inversion approach, a powerful mental model that we all could apply when dealing with any problem.

Inversion is a practice of negative visualization and addressing problems backward.

Unfortunately, thinking about the opposite of what we want doesn’t come naturally to most of us. It requires a conscious effort to imagine all the ways our best-laid plans can fail. The inversion mental model provides a framework to question our thoughts and assumptions that go into making our plans while also encouraging a range of different viewpoints. 

Examining your goals through the inversion lens will help you identify assumptions and default behaviors that could lead to failure in your pursuit of positive outcomes.

One Reply to “Inversion- A Mental Model”

  • […] In this Ted Talk titled Working Backward To Solve Problems, Maurice talks about retrograde analysis as a method to solve game positions in chess by working backward from known outcomes. Retrograde analysis is a more funky reference to the idea of Inversion as a problem-solving approach. I have also written about it in a blog titled Inversion-A Mental Model. […]

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