Inversion as the strategy to solve hard problems

In life, the primal instinct is survival. Sometimes we just need to limit the downside while the upside takes care of itself.


Most of the time there is an infinite set of combinations on how to approach goals or solve the problems we have. We have limited capacity to process variables and seek the optimum approach, so finding the perfect way looks daunting for any human being.

Questions like: How to become financially independent? How to meet a romantic partner? How to create the next unicorn(1)? seem impossible to answer. In the bag of tricks of Charles Munger(2), he uses a simple strategy used by some of the bests mathematicians… Inversion.

Inversion often helps to uncover hidden beliefs about the problem. It casts light and helps to shape potential solutions. It allows us to focus on the few things we want to avoid to NOT reach an unwanted outcome rather than trying to cope with a myriad of potential solutions. As Charles Munger would put it: “When we are trying to solve hard problems, avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance”.

Inverting the previous question could turn into:

  • How NOT to be financially independent? (How to become poor)
  • How NOT to meet a romantic partner? (How to be alone / become boring/despicable,...)
  • How NOT to create the next unicorn? (How to create the worst company)

The answers to these questions become easier: i.e: Spending too much on unuseful things; Not understanding basic financial principles; Being anti-social; Not taking care of my body and mind; Creating a terrible company culture in a tough competitive industry with a bad team.

Notes: (1) a unicorn refers to a company valued over $1B) (2) Charles Munger is an investor, philanthropist and long time partner of Warren Buffet at Berkshire Hathaway.