How to use inversion to get better at business planning

Avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance.

How to use inversion to get better at business planning

Inversion is one of the most powerful thinking tools I've incorporated into my life. In a nutshell, it's about asking the opposite question.

Problems get easier when you turn them around.

Rather than asking what I can do to be happy, I try to avoid all the things that make me miserable. Rather than asking what I need to do to achieve something, I ask myself what I need to avoid.

Using inversion for business planning

As people running businesses, we are constantly planning and strategising.

Usually, we already know what the problems are (slow growth, high churn, low retention, etc) but we fail to find the right solutions to them. This is where inversion proves to be a formidable tool.

Please note that inversion will not help you coming up with ideas, nor with the creative process. It's "just" a tool to guide your decision making process.

Instead of asking "how do I increase the chances of success?", I now ask myself "how do I decrease the chances of failure?". It sounds like a small shift, but in fact it drastically changes your mindset.

Let me give you an example.
Imagine you have identified high churn as the biggest problem in your business. Instead of asking "how can we stop customers leaving?", ask "what would make them want to stay?"

When you answer these two questions you can arrive at two wildly different conclusions.

When you answer the second question, you are trying to identify the current causes of failure. Once you identify those causes, the solution is almost always obvious.

Avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance

When you focus on increasing the chances of success, by definition you're looking for something new. New ways of doing things, new marketing channels, new product features, etc. The problem with this approach is that you're literally shooting in the dark and you're much more likely to fall victim of the "new shiny object syndrome".

When you focus on decreasing the chances of failure, instead, your thinking is less based on assumptions and more grounded in reality. You ask yourself simple questions about what are the most likely causes of failures and work back from there.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of using inversion is that it provides clarity.

Even when I don’t know what I want, I can determine what I don’t want and avoid that. Likewise in business we often don't know what we need to do, but we can determine what we need to avoid to fail and just do that.

Businesses succeed by doing all sorts of different things, but almost always fail by doing the same mistakes. Focusing on not failing, instead of succeeding, I believe is the best way to increase our odds of success.

“It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”
— Charlie Munger
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