How inversion can help you solve problems where you have no idea how to start

Some questions feel impossible to answer.
Like “what’s the best way to be happy?”
But for situations like this, there’s a simple mental model that can help: Inversion.

Inversion is where you take a difficult problem that you can’t solve, and work out the opposite.
So in our “best way to be happy” example, we just work out how we could make someone miserable.

  • Deprive them of sleep
  • Give them little, unhealth and bland food
  • give them little sunlight
  • prevent them from socialising etc.

Now, to work out how to be happy, we just invert those items and we’ve got a good starting point.
But it works for more than just life advice, it can help with designing a product or working on a marketing campaign. Just work out what the worst thing would be (and why) and then do the opposite.

This method was made famous by the German Mathematician Carl Gustav Jacob who used it to solve complex problems.

So if you’re feeling stuck and don’t know what to do, try inverting the problem.

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