February 9, 2023

Invert, always invert

mental model for financial advisory leaders

Jerry Chua
Cofounder, Chief Activator @ Finberty
Jerry Chua

Have you ever experienced being trapped in a rut as a sales leader, unable to generate fresh concepts or strategies to increase revenue and productivity?

mental model for financial advisory leaders

If so, it might be time to experiment with the mental model of inversion.

But what exactly is the inversion mental model, and how can it help you and your team succeed? Simply put, it's a strategy for viewing an issue or difficulty from a different angle and flipping it on its head. By doing this, you can frequently come up with fresh ideas for problems that you may not have previously considered.

Charlie Munger has spoken about the importance of inversion in his speeches and interviews. He often uses the example of a person trying to build a tall building. Instead of starting from the ground up and trying to construct a stable foundation, it is more effective to start from the top and work backwards. By considering the factors that could cause the building to collapse, and working to prevent them, the foundation can be built with a much greater degree of stability.

“Invert, always invert: Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward.” - Charlie Munger
inversion as mental model and way of problem solving for sales leaders

Great entrepreneurs have used the inversion mental model to their advantage in many different ways. Here are a few interesting examples:

Benjamin Frankin

Benjamin Frankin, was a Founding Father of the United States and a polymath who excelled in many fields, including science, writing, and politics, is credited with applying inversion to solve issues and improve decisions. His use of inversion to choose whether or not to attend a social function is one well-known example. Franklin would weigh the prospective advantages and disadvantages of attending and decide which was greater rather than just deciding whether or not to go. Franklin was better able to make decisions by taking into account both sides of the situation.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, put the inversion mental model to work when he started Amazon. Bezos turned the conventional retail paradigm on its head by developing an online marketplace where customers could buy things from anywhere in the world rather than building a physical shop. Amazon became one of the biggest and most prosperous marketplaces in the world because of this novel strategy.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, has likewise discussed the significance of inversion in his decision-making. He has stated that he asks himself, "What is the worst potential outcome and how do I prevent it?" when faced with a challenge. Musk is able to make judgments that are more in line with his objectives by weighing the risks and taking action to mitigate them.

So what does this mean in practice?

Spending time thinking about the opposite of what you want doesn’t come naturally to most people. And yet many of the smartest people in history, have done this naturally.

Inversion helps improve understanding of the problem. By forcing you to do the work necessary to have an opinion you’re forced to consider different perspectives.

If you’re to take anything away from inversion let it be this: Spend less time trying to be brilliant and more time trying to avoid obvious stupidity. The deal? Avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance - Charlie Munger

adopt inversion to look at what you don't want
"Avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance" - Charlie Munger

Here is a quick approach for applying the inversion mental model as a sales leader to raise your revenue and productivity:

Identify a particular issue or difficulty your sales team is now encountering. This could be caused by a variety of factors, such as poor conversion rates or high sales rep turnover.

Invert the problem by thinking about it in the opposite way. For example, instead of focusing on how you can increase conversion rates, try considering what actions might make a potential customer LESS likely to engage with your business. By identifying and avoiding behaviours or tactics that might discourage engagement, you can improve your conversion rates.

Brainstorm ideas for how to solve the inverted problem. This could involve brainstorming a list of potential solutions, or coming up with a specific plan of action.

Evaluate the potential solutions that you have come up with, and select the ones that you believe will be the most effective.

Implement the selected solutions, and track the results to see if they are having a positive impact on your revenue and productivity.

Continuously monitor and evaluate the results of your solutions, and make adjustments as needed to ensure that you are maximizing your team's productivity and revenue.

Consider not only how you can solve a problem, but also how you can make it worse. Then, try to avoid doing that or remove the factors that cause it to persist.

He wins his battles by making no mistakes. -Sun Tzu

How can we encourage our team to use the inversion mental model to increase their sales as well?

Instead of focusing on selling a product or service, try focusing on solving a customer's problem or helping them achieve a specific goal. This can help you build stronger relationships with your customers and ultimately drive more sales.

An example of a conversion you can have with your sales rep today:

  • YOU (as Director or Manager): Hey, do you have a minute to chat? I wanted to talk to you about this concept called the inversion mental model.
  • Financial Planner (as sales producer): I don't know, my usual approach seems to be working pretty well for me. What could this model possibly offer that I don't already have?
  • YOU (as Director or Manager): I understand your hesitation, but an inversion mental model is a powerful tool that can help us find new and innovative solutions to problems. It's all about turning a challenge on its head and looking at it from a different perspective. And who knows, it might just help you close that tough deal you've been working on.
  • Financial Planner: Hmm, I suppose it couldn't hurt to give it a try.
  • YOU: Great! Let's take this customer you're having trouble closing a deal with as an example. Instead of focusing on selling them our product or service, let's try thinking about the problem from their perspective. How can we help them solve their problems or achieve their goals? When presenting a proposal, consider what might cause them to hesitate or decline to work with you. Are there any objections or concerns that you can address during the presentation to increase the chances of closing a sale? By proactively addressing potential roadblocks, you may be able to increase the chances of converting the prospect into a client. By inverting the traditional sales approach and focusing on solving the customer's problem, we might be able to close the deal and drive more revenue for the company.
  • Financial Planner: Okay, I'll give it a shot.

[A few days later]

  • Financial Planner: Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I tried using the inversion mental model on that tough deal I was working on. And guess what – I was able to close it! It was all about understanding the customer's needs and helping them find a solution to their problem.
  • YOU: Wow, that's fantastic! I'm glad to see that the inversion mental model is working for you. Keep using it and see where it takes you.
  • Financial Planner: I will, thanks for introducing me to it. It's definitely a valuable tool to have in my toolkit.

As with any mental model or tool, there are potential drawbacks to using inversion as a way of approaching problems and decision-making. Here are a few potential downsides to consider:

1. Narrow focus

Inversion can be a helpful tool for thinking through the dangers and hazards of a choice or problem, but it might not always be the greatest method for thinking through all conceivable outcomes. By concentrating only on the negatives, we run the risk of missing out on chances or favourable results.

2. Limited perspective

While inversion is a useful tool for analyzing potential dangers and pitfalls from a single perspective, it might not always take into account all available angles or factors. As a result, it might not always present a comprehensive or impartial view of a dilemma or choice.

3. Overly cautious

Inversion can be a beneficial tool for avoiding potential dangers and hazards, but it can also encourage a risk-averse or excessively cautious attitude to problem-solving and decision-making. This may limit our capacity for rational risk-taking and may keep us from exploring possibilities that might be fruitful.

It is important to keep these potential drawbacks in mind when using inversion as a mental model. While it can be a useful tool, it is important to consider a range of viewpoints and approaches when solving problems and making decisions and to strike a balance between caution and risk-taking.

Overall, inversion is a powerful mental model that can help us approach problems and decision-making in a more effective way. It encourages us to consider the potential pitfalls and risks, and take proactive steps to mitigate them. I highly recommend incorporating this model into your decision-making process, whether you are a startup founder, sales leader, financial planner, or simply looking to make better decisions in your personal and professional life.

But don't just take my word for it – try using the inversion mental model yourself and see the results it can bring.

"Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." - Steve Jobs

As Steve Jobs once said, "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." By embracing this mental model and thinking creatively, you can become a leader in your industry and drive success for yourself and your team.

Thanks for reading! I hope this article was helpful.

"": The Farnam Street blog is a source of information and insights on topics such as mental models, decision-making, and personal and professional development, written by the team at Farnam Street and its founder, Shane Parrish.
"The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts" by Shane Parrish and the team at Farnam Street, a company that focuses on helping people develop better thinking skills.
"Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman: In this book, Kahneman discusses the concept of inversion as a strategy for problem-solving, and provides examples of how it can be applied in different contexts.
"The Art of Thinking Clearly" by Rolf Dobelli: This book includes a chapter on inversion, which explains how it can be used to make better decisions and avoid common pitfalls in thinking.
"The Almanack of Charlie Munger" by Peter D. Kaufman: This book compiles and summarizes the wisdom and insights of Charlie Munger

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