Inversion Mental Model

The inversion mental model, though listed under the problem-solving category, is actually one of the most powerful tools in the mental model toolbox. The inversion method blossomed from the mathematical elements of German mathematician Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi, who worked on elliptical functions. He would solve his problems with the following strategy: man muss immer umkehren. This means “invert, always invert.” 

From that thought sprung the inversion mental model used to show that you can’t just look at your problems in one manner. In order to get the entire scope of a project, you have to look at it forward and backward. When you invert someone, it forces your mind to see it in a different light and to uncover truths about the problem or project you have at hand. Obviously, thinking about the exact opposite of the problem doesn’t really come naturally to us, but some of the most brilliant people in history have solved problems doing just that. 

Don’t expect to always invert your problems and magically find the answers; it doesn’t quite work like that. What it will do is give you another perspective to draw from, which will allow you to see problematic areas as well as clues toward the path you need to take in order to break through those problems. 

Occam’s Razor 

Simply put, Occam’s razor says that the simplest of answers is always the correct answer. We need to stop racking our brains attempting to find complex solutions to problems and begin focusing on what actually works for it. This mental model is great for solving problems, but it is also good for drawing initial conclusions before the bulk of the facts or before certain information is brought into the picture. 

Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “Sherlock Holmes”, explained Occam’s razor. He asserted that if you get rid of the impossible, the thing that remains – no matter how ridiculous, impossible, or even improbable – must be the truth. 

Scientifically, there have been studies that have proven the theory of Occam’s razor. The principle of minimum energy, a sector of the second law of thermodynamics, simply finds that whenever it’s possible, the least amount of energy is used. This concept is utilized in science, business, project management, problem solving, and many more fields. 

William of Ockham, a friar, philosopher, and theologian in the 14th century, didn’t exactly theorize Occam’s razor, but he was known for deducing, which helped the other writers develop the model. It is used across the board to prove or disprove specific theories. Below are some examples of how Occam’s razor has been used in the past. 

Religion- The model has been used to attempt to prove or disprove the existence of God. 

Scientific theories- Scientists use the model to decide whether a hypothesis is genuinely purposeful. If it is easy to be proven or falsified, this is usually a good start. The more complex the hypothesis is, the denser the facts have to become to justify the theory. 

Medicine- Doctors use Occam’s razor every time they see a patient. They attempt to find the fewest causes for multiple symptoms and the most likely cause of their ailment. 

As with any model, always keep in mind that they are not 100 hundred percent fool-proof. That is why it is a process – a discovery through facts and theories – to find the correct answer. Always draw the conclusions you believe will fit best with the situation, and never be afraid to discredit the model if it doesn’t fit in with the project at hand. 

Every problem that you solve is an opportunity to better your critical thinking skills. Rather than looking at problems that may arise as challenges that are impossible to meet, use this step-by-step system to break down the elements of even the most complex issue and find a method of approaching it. In time, you will see that not only your thinking skills, but your problem-solving skills will have developed. 


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