top of page

Thinking backwards & perfect workdays

“All I want to know is where I'm going to die so I'll never go there.” - Charlie Munger


What the accomplished businessman, investor, and philanthropist Charlie Munger means is, if your goal is "X", then try solving for "not X".

That is, invert. Thing about the problem backwards.

What needs to happen so that I don't reach X?


 

Inversion


Inversion, in the context of decision-making and problem-solving, is a cognitive technique that involves approaching a problem from a reverse perspective. Instead of focusing on how to achieve a desired outcome, you think about how to avoid or prevent the undesirable outcomes.

 

In essence, inversion encourages you to think about what not to do rather than just what to do.

 

Together with his business partner Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger attests to using this approach to gain long-term advantage “by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”

 

This approach emphasizes that it's sometimes simpler and easier to consider what you want to avoid rather than what you desire.

 

Solving the puzzle of a "perfect workday"


Entrepreneur Andrew Wilkinson gives a good example of this when sitting down with his partner to design “the perfect workday”.

 

Instead of thinking through what they wanted a perfect day to look like, they thought about the worst day imaginable.

 

It looked like this:

 

1.      Full of long meetings

2.      A packed calendar

3.      Dealing with people we don’t like or trust

4.      Owing people things / not being in control / obligations

5.      Having to be at the office

6.      Travel

7.      Tired

 

Working from this list, they inverted each of these to create what they called a set anti-goals - guidelines for what not to do in order to have a "perfect workday".

 

For example,


1.      Never schedule an in-person meeting when it can otherwise be accomplished via email or phone (or not at all)

2.      No more than 2 hours of scheduled time per day

3.      No business or obligations with people we don’t like—even just a slight bad vibe and it’s a hard no.



Inversion works for three main reasons:

 

1.      By helping you understand the problem better. By forcing you to adopt a different perspective and gain a more holistic understanding.

2.      It encourages you to think about subtracting obstacles before adding things. Going against our human tendency to add.

3.      It reframes the problem into a more tangible and effective form: Rather than trying to win, you should focus on not losing. The one who loses fewer plays is the one who takes the trophy home.


Question for you

 

What is your worst workday imaginable? What is your set of anti-goals?

 

Suppose you are looking to improve your {productivity}. Focus on all the things you could do to decrease your {productivity}. What are the things to avoid or subtract from your work environment?

 

Can you apply this to another {puzzle}?

35 views1 comment

1 Comment


Eduardo Tavcar
Eduardo Tavcar
Nov 16, 2023

Valuable, clear, easy to read articles that apply BS to everyday things. Great learning!

Thank you, Melina

Like
bottom of page