Key Thinking Skills Learned From the Stoic Philosophers
Stoic philosophers; Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus conducted an exercise known as a premeditatio malorum, meaning “premeditation of evils.”
“Very little is needed to make us happy in life, it is all within our way to thinking.” Marcus Aurelius
“We suffer more in imagination that in reality.”– Seneca
“It is the resolution of difficulties that show us what we are.”– Epictetus
The goal then as now is to envision the negative things that could happen in life.
For example, the Stoics would imagine what it would be like to lose their job and become homeless or to suffer an injury and become paralyzed or to have their reputation ruined and lose their status in society.
The Stoics believed that by imagining the worst case scenario ahead of time, they could overcome their fears of negative experiences and make better plans to prevent them.
While most people were focused on how they could achieve success, the Stoics also considered how they would manage failure.
The Big Qs: What would things look like if everything went wrong tomorrow, and what does this tell us about how we should prepare today?
This way of thinking is known as inversion.
Studied it, and realize that inversion is a rare and crucial skill that virtually all great thinkers use to their advantage.
The German mathematician Carl Jacobi made a number of important contributions to different scientific fields during his career.
In particular, he was known for his ability to solve hard problems by following a strategy of man muss immer umkehren or, loosely translated, “invert, always invert.”
Professor Jacobi believed that a Key to clarify one’s thinking was to restate math problems in inverse form. He would write down the opposite of the problem he was trying to solve and found that the solution often came to him more easily.
Inversion is a powerful thinking tool, as it puts a spotlight on errors and roadblocks that are not obvious at 1st look.
Big Qs 2: What if the opposite was true, what if I focused on a different side of this situation?
So, instead of asking how to do something, ask how to not do it.
Great thinkers, icons, and innovators think forward and backward. Occasionally, driving the brain in reverse.
They consider the opposite side of things. This way of thinking can reveal compelling opportunities for innovation.
Art provides a good example.
Inversion is often at the core of great art and innovation. At any time in history there is a status quo in society and the artists and innovators who stand out are often the ones who overturn the standard in a compelling way.
Great art and innovation breaks the previous rules.
It is an inversion of what came before, the Secret to unconventional thinking is just inverting the status quo.
Inverse logic can be extended to many areas of life.
For example, ambitious young people are often focused on how to achieve success. But billionaire investor Charlie Munger encourages them to consider the inverse of success instead.
“What do you want to avoid?” he asks. “Such an easy answer: sloth and unreliability. If you’re unreliable it doesn’t matter what your virtues are. You’re going to crater immediately. Doing what you have faithfully engaged to do should be an automatic part of your conduct. You want to avoid sloth and unreliability.”
Avoiding mistakes is an under-appreciated way to improve. In most jobs, you can enjoy some degree of success simply by being proactive and reliable — even if you are not particularly smart, fast, or talented in a given area.
Sometimes it is important to consider why people fail in life than why they succeed.
Leaders can ask themselves, “What would someone do each day if they were a terrible manager?” Good leaders would likely avoid those things.
Similarly, if innovation is a core piece of your business model you can ask, “How could we make this company less innovative?”
Eliminating those barriers and obstacles might help creative ideas arise more quickly.
Every marketing department wants to attract new business, while asking, “What would alienate our core customer?”
A different point of view can reveal surprising insights.
We can all learn just as much from identifying what does not work as from spotting what does.
Inversion is not about finding good advice, but rather about finding anti-advice. It teaches what to avoid.
I learned this way of thinking by the time I was 14 anni.
Below are some more ways to utilize inversion in life and in business, as follows:
A Key application is called Failure Premortem, a Premeditation of Evils for the modern day company.
It works like this:
Imagine the most important goal or project you are working on right now. Now fast forward 6 months and assume the project or goal has failed.
Then tell the story of how it happened, think of main goal and ask, “What could cause this to go horribly wrong?”
Just like a Premeditation of Evils, the idea is to identify challenges and points of failure in order to develop a plan to prevent them ahead of time.
Lots of people want to get more done in less time.
Applying inversion to productivity, ask, “What if I wanted to decrease my focus? How do I end up distracted?”
The answer to that Question may help to discover interruptions you can eliminate to free up more time and energy each day.
This strategy is effective, and safer than chasing success.
Some people take drugs or stimulants in an effort to increase productivity. These methods might work, but you also run the risk of possibly dangerious side effects.
Meanwhile, there is very little danger is leaving your phone in another room, blocking social media websites, or tuning out the Noise coming from the TV set.
Both strategies deal with the same problem, but inversion attacksit from a different angle and with less risk.
This insight reveals this Key principle: Blindly chasing success can have severe consequences, but preventing failure usually carries very little risk.
The majority wants to make more money, and learn how to do it.
Now inverted the problem to this: how not to destroy your financial health?
Spending more than you earn is a sure path to financial failure. It does not matter how much money you have, the math will never work out for you over time. And in America what I have observed is that many people live light years ahead of their income, or like my sainted Mother advised, “Do not work to keep up with the Jones. Envy is a deadly sin.”
So, before stressing about about how to make more money figured out how to not lose money. If you can manage to avoid that problem a lot of pain, sorrow and anguish will pass you by.
Inversion is counter-intuitive.
Many people do not recognize the need to spend time thinking about the opposite of want.
Inversion is a Key tool of many great thinkers, why?
- Stoic thinkers visualize negative outcomes.
- Groundbreaking artists and innovators invert the status quo.
- Effective leaders avoid the mistakes that prevent success just as much as they chase the skills that accelerate it.
Inversion forces us to treat decisions like a court of law.
In court, the jury has to listen to both sides of the argument before making up their mind.
Inversion helps do something similar, asking:
- What if the evidence dis-confirmed what you believe?
- What if you tried to destroy the views that you cherish?
Inversion prevents us from making up the mind after just the 1st conclusion. It is a way to counteract the gravitational pull of what is know as confirmation bias.
Inversion is an essential skill for leading a logical and rational life, allowing one to step outside the normal patterns of thought and see situations from a different angle.
The Key takeaway: whatever problems faced, always consider the opposite side of things, do not be in a hurry, as it is a leaders job to solve problems.
Have a terrific weekend