The Mental Model of Inversion (or How I Can Hurt my Chances of Succeeding in 2011)

by RJ

in Psychology

There are few books that I have read, that I have felt like a smarter person after reading. Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger was one of those books.

It’s hard to put in writing, how valuable this book was. Although it’s over 500 pages long, it’s a book I plan to read once a year for the rest of my life. More importantly though, I have already started to put concept I learned into use.

One of those concepts is the mental model of inversion. To quote the text, which is a transcription of the speech below Charlie Munger gave at USC Gould School of Law’s Commencement in 2007: (You can also find it around the 2:20 mark of the following video)

“The way complex systems work, and the way mental constructs work, problems frequently became easier to solve through “inversion.”  If you turn problems around into reverse, you often think better. For instance, if you want to help India, the question you should consider asking is not: “How can I help India?” Instead, you should ask: “How can I hurt India?” You find what will do the worst damage, and then try to avoid it. Perhaps the two approaches seem logically the same thing. But those who have mastered algebra know that inversion will often easily solve problems that otherwise resist solution. And in life, just as algebra, inversion will help you solve problems that you can’t otherwise handle.”

(If you have some time, listen to the entire speech. It’s really good. The link above is just to Part # 3)

Applying Inversion

Last week, I listed  my 2011 goals. To follow up that post, instead of showing you how I plan to achieve those goals, I’m going to tell you what I can do to hurt my chances of succeeding in 2011.

# 1 – Not Set Weekly and Monthly Goals

Making a list of goals for 2011 was easy. The hard part is doing the work. The harder part is doing the right work on time and on budget.

Take my goal to develop four revenue streams for Gen Y Wealth. If I wanted to hurt my chances of succeeding, I would forget this goal  for months. Then around June, I will look at the complexity and become overwhelmed.

If I wanted to actually help my chances of completing this goal, I would set monthly than weekly tasks that I have to complete.

# 2  - Inconsistent Posting

One giant mistake I made in early 2010, was not having a consistent posting schedule on Gen Y Wealth. My thought was to write, when I felt like I had something worth writing.

This made some sense in my head but doing so confused a lot of readers. Coming to the site for the first time, they didn’t know what to expect.

Around March, I finally stuck to having a post up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Looking back, I’m glad I made this decision. Not only did traffic go up, but from the time I made the commitment I started to think like a writer.

If I don’t want to hurt my chances of succeeding in 2011, I will stick to this posting schedule.

# 3 – Delayed Shipping

My goal in 2011 is to turn Gen Y Wealth into a  business.

On the whiteboard in my office, I have three dates; March 30, June 29, and November 29.

Those three dates represent my shipping dates. In other words, the dates in which I will launch a premium product.

If I don’t want to succeed in 2011, I will push back each date again and again.

# 4 – Stop Paying My Goals First

One of my goals in 2011, is to hike the Sacred Trail of Machu Picchu. For 8 months, I have saved a portion of every dollar I earned towards this goal.

Even though my budget is tight right this year, I will continue to pay this goal first.

If I don’t want to succeed, I will stop the automatic transfer from my checking account to sub savings account. Instead, I would just see if I have any money left over at the end of the month to finance this trip.

#5 –  Don’t Set Aside Time for Reading Everyday

My goal for 2011 is to complete the reading list for the Personal MBA. Right now, I have about 40 books read and 60 more to go.

Reading a book a week isn’t all that hard, unless I don’t set aside time each day for reading.

If I want to fail with this goal, I will not schedule time in for reading. Instead of planning ahead, I will just see if I have some extra time at the end of the day.

What Do You Have to Say?

What can you do in 2011, to hurt your chances of achieving your goals?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

PatrickNo Gravatar January 4, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I can relate to the inversion theory as we did this all the time in the military with the red cell. One group is the red cell and they are playing the role of the bad guys. The good guys are the blue cell and their job is to stop the red cell from disrupting their plans and operations.

I learned more about personal and physical security being on the red cell than I did in a classroom or by being on the blue cell team. For some reason, being devious brought up a new level of thinking and I loved “beating” the blue cell guys. I also knew that each time I was able to beat the blue cell in an exercise then we could later break down what happened and put security measures in place to prevent that from happening in a real crisis.

The most important thing though is to conduct proper follow-up and to take action when the follow-up shows that you are not meeting your own expectations.


John HunterNo Gravatar January 4, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Charlie Munger has lots of great ideas. Investors you definitely read his ideas and learn. The Art of Problem Solving Accompanied by Ackoff’s Fables is a great book on problem solving ideas based on systemic thinking (like inversion). The author, Russ Ackoff, like Munger, is full of great ideas.


RustyNo Gravatar January 5, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I like this inversion theory. “What can I do to hurt my finances in January?” Not plan it out, see what happened in December?


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