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Inversion for Productivity: A simple mental model to make actual progress.

By Hajira Mehreen Qurishe | Chennai, India

In a picture-perfect social media-obsessed world; everyone is so focused on achieving success, that we tend to forget how crucial failures are. We have gotten used to taking things at face value. Do we focus our time and energy on thinking about how to make something work instead of what could not make it work? Even if most of us do think that way, we let it overwhelm us instead of turning it into a product of action.

Inversion is a mental model in which you think about all of the worst-case scenarios and plan not to let it happen. It's about using your fear of failure to ensure success by being constructive about it.

Carl Jacobi, a German mathematician, said, “Invert, always Invert”, expressing his belief that the solution of many hard problems can be clarified by re-expressing them in inverse form. He made many important contributions to different scientific fields during his career. He believed that one of the best ways to clarify your thinking was to restate math problems in inverse form. He would write down the opposite of the problem he was trying to solve and found that the solution often came to him more easily.

You can apply this to real-life situations by calculating the possible risks in attempting something and planning your best to prevent it from happening. For example; You want to do something productive. So, instead of focussing on what you can do to achieve productivity, you could focus on what would make you distracted from your current objective? If having your smartphone around you is going to be distracting for you. You should leave it in a place away from you for some time.

You have better chances of achieving success by being prepared for failure. For example, running a company means functioning alongside the risk factor. If you are going to actively focus on making it successful, it's smart to calculate what are your current downsides and how to better them. If you are focused on innovating your product design, ask yourself “will the customer like it?” and list down what could go completely wrong with it.


1. The product is not user-friendly.

2. The color scheme of the product is not visually appealing.

3. Changing the font style wouldn’t ensure any positive feedback.

By thinking the opposite of what you want to achieve, it becomes a lot easier to achieve what you want.

We all are so fixated on seeking brilliance and being a perfectionist. We don’t realize how harmful these beliefs are. For a lot of us, it's easier to avoid doing something stupid than trying to achieve our own far stretched idea of perfection.

Simple steps can be taken to achieve bigger dreams. By using inversion, we are simply able to think both sides of a situation and use it to our advantage. We can improve a lot by simply training ourselves to avoid making a mistake.

So instead of asking yourself the question “What I need to start doing today?”, apply Inversion and ask yourself “What should I stop doing today?”



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