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Stuck Solving a Problem? Think of How Not to Solve it

Feb 05, 2020

Think of the last time you couldn’t finish an impossible task at work, picking your brain dry for every possible solution. At some point your mind has stopped working—you realize you’ve been repeating the same ideas to yourself over and over for the last few hours. You’re hopelessly stuck.

We feel you. We have our nasty share of creative ruts and late-night hair pulling from time to time.

The next time you find yourself stuck in a mental loop, hammering away at the same ideas hoping to strike gold…


Step back for a minute, breathe, and just ask yourself one question:

How do I not do this?

Think of how to achieve the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do right now. How do I not be a good team leader? How do I get people to ignore my product? How do I bore my client to death with this presentation?

This handy little strategy is called Inversion, an absurdly simple technique the world’s best decision-makers employ when solving and understanding problems—one you probably already use all the time without even noticing.

When faced with a difficult problem or situation, we typically put all our efforts into thinking of ways to achieve the outcome we desire. Inversion suggests we think backward and think of how not to achieve that outcome—how to do the exact opposite.

And by inverting your problems, new ways to solve your problems suddenly start popping up.

Trying to keep your employees happy and fulfilled? Think of what would make them sick of their jobs and leave. If you’re trying to improve your team’s workflow, think of the current processes slowing your team down. If you’re trying to market an expensive seminar, think of the reasons people wouldn’t buy your seminar.

Pre-mortems are another way marketers utilize Inversion. Call for a meeting during the planning stage of your event or project, then identify all the possible ways your event or project can fail and come up with a strategy to prevent those from happening.

In marketing, a common strategy is to use pain points to sell your product, under the assumption that people tend to focus more on avoiding pain than seeking pleasure. Inversion can help you find your audience’s pain points: instead of thinking about all the problems your product will solve, think about all the problems your audience would have if they didn’t have your product. If you’ve somehow been burdened with the task of creating an ad campaign for potato peelers, instead of focusing on how fast your product peels potatoes, try showing how long prep times suck the joy out of cooking.

Inversion changes your mind’s course when tackling problems. By being aware of how not to solve a problem, you immediately identify the possible ways you can fail, thus minimizing your chances of actually failing. And we may not even realize it, but sometimes all those hours spent in pursuit of the perfect strategy can leave your backdoors wide open to newer problems.

So the next time you’re faced with a difficult problem, tackle it backward. Sometimes it might seem like you’ve thought of every possible solution, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that there’s always going to be something you haven’t thought of yet.

Dot Digital PH is a digital marketing agency that creates data-driven campaigns for tangible, authentic results. We specialize in social media marketing, web development, and content creation. Drop us a message and schedule a call to know how we can help grow your digital presence.