Inversion Thinking

Newsletter No. 21 – May 31st, 2024
Written by a human. 

Inversion thinking is a cognitive strategy that involves approaching problems by considering their inverse or opposite scenarios.

Rather than focusing solely on how to achieve success, inversion thinking encourages individuals to think about what might lead to failure and how to avoid it. This method helps to identify potential risks, obstacles, and mistakes that might otherwise be overlooked. By systematically staying in front of negative outcomes, a team can develop more robust plans and strategies.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is not to let this exercise become one driven by the fear of failure.

The goal is to identify the potential areas of failure to ensure success.

Charlie Munger is a notable advocate of inversion thinking. Munger believed that understanding what to avoid can be as valuable, if not more so, than knowing what to do.

Now imagine this…you are the leader of your family [business] and in anticipation of your retirement (in 10 years, not 2!), you ask your entire family to get together and talk about the future and how the family can ensure a successful transition from one generation to the next.

You start by asking everyone to brainstorm ideas of what could go wrong from a family perspective (any family, not just yours) and with your business. After taking inventory of all the issues, you, your family, and your leadership team spend time strategizing how you can prevent those things from happening and then putting plans in place to ensure they don’t.

Inversion thinking is common in organizations, but rare in enterprising families. However, by doing a version of the above exercise, your family can:

  1. create a safe place for dialogue as the exercise de-personalizes the family issues as you’re approaching this as a thought exercise, not as a personal reflection
  2. identify many of the personal and professional issues that need to be solved for
  3. create family alignment around the work that needs to be done to mitigate failure

Transition conversations are often filled with emotional flames fueled by years of family tension. However, if you can make the conversation an objective thought exercise (using inversion thinking, for instance), you may be able to avoid some of the reoccurring issues.

And in the spirit of inversion thinking, let’s wrap up this newsletter by taking a moment to think of the implications of notdoing this…

– Josh Gentine

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