Apr 4, 2019

The Surprising Power Of Inversion

Man muss immer umkehren
— Carl Jacobi

Invert, always invert.

Jacobi believed that the solution of many hard problems could be clarified by re-expressing them in inverse form.

This is called inversion: Solving problems by approaching goals in reverse.

With inversion, you flip the problem on its head. You think about what you shouldn’t do rather than what you should do.

What will stop you from achieving your goal? What do you need to get rid of?

This technique has been used by many of the greats throughout history. By Charlie Munger, Albert Einstein and Seneca — to name a few.


  • Munger flipped investment best practices with Berkshire Hathaway
  • Einstein flipped Newton’s laws of motion with Special Relativity
  • Seneca flipped the common Roman values with Stoic philosophy

And you know what? Using inversion in everyday life is surprisingly simple.

Now let’s see it in action: Charlie Munger gives a great example of this process in his secret to a long and happy life in this interview.

(Go ahead watch it — it’s just 30 seconds.)

To understand his answer, we start with the steps that will guarantee a short and miserable life.

  • Have a lot of envy
  • Have a lot of resentment
  • Overspend your income
  • Let your troubles make you sad
  • Deal with unreliable people
  • Do what you’re not supposed to do

Now what’s the exact opposite of these?

That’s it! You’ve got Munger’s secret to a long and happy life.

Inversion won’t solve everything, but at least you’ll have a good understanding of what to avoid when navigating complex problems.

You’ll have an easy way to improve.

— Mike