Inversive Thinking

Inversive thinking is a way of problem solving that involves thinking about the state of the world that would exist if the particular problem you are trying to solve for is true. In other words, "if we want this, what else in the world would have to be true simultaneously?"

  • ex. when it was discovered that the slimming effects of cigarettes would be a good strategy, the tobacco companies sought to have different aspects of life changed: dessert menus at restaurants included cigarettes. kitchen cabinets included a slot to put cigarettes. the idea was to literally shape our lives around a void which would only be fillable by cigarettes

  • sidenote: if you are trying to discern who your target market is, brainstorm a list of benefits of your product and see if anything jumps out (in this example, slimming is a benefit that was previously overlooked until they realized it was a good selling point for women

  • takeaway: always invert when you are stuck on how to solve a problem

  • def - a process of problem-solving thinking that flips the convention model of "what do I have to do to achieve X" on its head

  • ex. tobacco companies once had men as their sole market. To solve this problem conventionally, you'd ask yourself "what do we need to do in order to get women to smoke?". If you were to solve this problem in an inversive way, you'd ask yourself "in a world where there are an equal amount of women smokers as men, what variables must be true in order for this world to exist?". The answer was that women had to be able to see smoking as consistent with their existing desire to be slim. The companies figured that in a world where women were also smokers, the women would also have it in their head that smoking promotes a piece of their self-identity. With the slimness fad going on, this was a perfect opportunity.

  • ex. Sherlock Holmes had a case where there was supposedly a compromising photo of the king in posession of a woman. A conventional approach to this problem is to first find out if the women has the picture through surveillance, then figure out where the picture is through some form of subversiveness. Sherlock was able to logic "if this woman does in fact have a picture, you'd think (due to its high value), she would keep it in an each to reach spot (people tend to keep valuables within reach in case of emergency)". Sherlock made up a ruse in order to get in her house, and had an associate fake a fire outside, prompting the woman to go for the photo, thereby confirming both its existence and its hiding place. In this example, Sherlock was able to imagine the state of world that would have to exist if this thing were in fact true.