#147: Invert, Always Invert: A Secret to Solving the Most Difficult Problems.

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This is a podcast episode titled, #147: Invert, Always Invert: A Secret to Solving the Most Difficult Problems.. The summary for this episode is: What happens when you flip a problem on its head? Today on Seeking Wisdom, DC and DG are talking about inversion: a beloved mental model of Warren Buffett’s billionaire business partner, Charlie Munger. Inverting a problem or challenge has endless practical applications in business and everyday life. Be sure to tune in to hear how you too can use inversion to overcome some of your biggest obstacles.

DG: Today, we're going to talk about one of the most secret, important, problem- solving lessons that I ever learned from you and you learned it from Charlie Munger, and that is, invert.

DC: Ooh, always invert.

DG: Always invert.

DC: That's the quote, " Invert, always invert."

DG: So, before you talk about this, I remember going for a walk with you in Cambridge, around the mall area, around Mass Av, around the Charles River, probably like end of 2015, trying to think about how to enter this market of marketing and sales, and I remember that you said, " Okay, well, this is too big. We can't say we're just going to go after marketers. We need a niche. We need a little wedge."

DC: That's right.

DG: And so our wedge was, it ended up being product marketing because we figured that the marketers are closer to the website. Remember that?

DC: Mm- hmm(affirmative).

DG: And they had the most ability to go in and change a website, yada, yada, yada. So, anyway, long story short, we launched Drift, things are going well. But, the way we got to that problem is by inverting.

DC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

DG: By starting at the end. And so that was a super- powerful lesson, and you re- shared it this week in your weekly Sunday night email, which I heard you're going to start making public.

DC: So, I'm working with the homie girl, G number 3.

DG: I saw it.

DC: I think she's G3.

DG: G3.

DC: Ooh, like the jet, because we have a lot of Gs here.

DG: Yeah.

DC: And we're going to open up The Snoozeletter. I don't know what we're going to call it yet, but it's going to be some version of the Sunday newsletter that I send internally, and I'm going to start making it available to everyone out there. It should be paid, but I like to give the people stuff.

DG: It should be paid. All right, so hit me, rewind back. How did you learn this lesson? What is inversion, and how do you apply it?

DC: Yeah, I think you did a good description there which is the idea that I learned from Charlie Munger, and Charlie Munger, it's all derivative, he learned from a mathematician is usually, when we're trying to make a high- stake decision, we're overwhelmed by all the different variables, the facts. We get lost in the process and all of the details, and we're overwhelmed and it's hard to make a decision. So, what he says is when you make a decision that he uses this technique of inversion. And what inversion means is to not examine the problem the way that you are now, but to flip the problem on its head. So, flip it upside down and start from the opposite end, and try to get to basically, the first principles of the root of things, and make a decision that way. So, you said, that your example was when we decided to get into the market, we were trying to target marketers within companies, that was too broad, but we know with our solution, we had to be installed on someone's website, so we, instead of thinking about all of our different variables, instead of thinking about all different types of marketers and how we can pitch them, we inverted it. We flipped it upside down and said, " Okay, let's start with the website. If we need to be at the website, how could we possibly get within a company." And then we took the next step and we said, " Okay, there's probably two ways that we can think of, one of them is to get in through the engineering, development, product, design side of the house because they usually hold the keys to the website. The other option was to get in through product marketers, which we identified as being close to the website in terms of collateral and material that they're creating." So, they had the keys to the website, they were close to the root where we needed to get to, and they were an underserved market, so they were small enough and niche enough that we could probably get in front of them.

DG: I want to read the quote from Charlie Munger that you put in this email. " Invert, always invert. Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward. What happens if all of our plans go wrong? Where don't we want to go, and how do you get there? Instead of looking for success, make a list of how to fail instead. Through sloth, envy, resentments, self- pity, entitlement, all the mental habits of self- defeat, avoid these qualities and you will succeed. Tell me where I'm going to die, that is so I don't go there." I love this, and one thing I noticed, you've done this, whenever I get at a whiteboard with you if we're trying to work on a bigger problem, I try to go right into the details and you're like, " Hold on. Back out." You say, " Let's write our guard rails out first." Right?

DC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

DG: And so on the left side of the whiteboard, you might write, before we figure out we want to solve the problem. Let's say we're rolling out new pricing changes, you typically kind of write out guard rails first, and you're like, " Okay, so what are the guard rails? Number one, we want it to be simple and easy to understand. Number two, we want it to be customer- friendly. Number three, it has to be at least X." And that exercise along has been super helpful in figuring out how to solve a problem.

DC: The reason that I do that is a little bit different from inversion, but it's the same basic idea. Basically, you're trying to create guard rails and trying to take away the obvious pitfalls of where you may fail, and you highlighted an important part there, which I didn't emphasize, which is the reason that he inverts is to first start to figure out how could we fail. And for us, and my example of the website, we said given the product we were selling is that we would never make it on their website, therefore, how could we get it. And that was the engineering track or the product marketer track.

DG: So, just like number one, you have to be able to get on the website. Okay, well, that means we got to go through this channel. You always talk about being paralyzed. People get paralyzed in the decision- making process. You got to do something. I think it helps lay out, okay, do this, then do this, then do this. All right, you know where to start.

DC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

DG: Yeah.

DC: It seems like it's popular, so maybe this will be the first newsletter I send out.

DG: I like it.

DC: CTA right here.

DG: Yeah. If I was getting this newsletter from you, I would have people like reply with a problem that what are you trying to invert, right?

DC: Oh.

DG: Give an example-

DC: Okay, conversation help.

DG: ...because it can be applied to anything, and it doesn't have to be about your business, it could be personally right?

DC: Yeah.

DG: I want to start going to the gym, five days a week. Okay? Help me solve that one. Let's work through that. Okay, so if I said to you, " DC, I want to go to the gym, five days a week," where would you start? Where would you invert?

DC: How would I invert that? The goal is to get what would stop you from going to the gym every day?

DG: Staying up too late. I'm not getting up early enough.

DC: Okay, so first step would be-

DG: Got to go to bed earlier.

DC: Got to go to bed earlier.

DG: Yeah.

DC: But we already inverted because we started with what would prevent you from getting to your goal, right?

DG: Yeah.

DC: And it was you couldn't get up.

DG: Yeah, couldn't get up, stayed out too late, drank at night, did something stupid, didn't set an alarm, didn't have my stuff ready, didn't have a workout plan.

DC: Yeah.

DG: So, really quickly I've already listed out four things that okay, well, I got to have a plan. What workout am I going to do? What time am I going to go to bed?

DC: But we started with the most fundamental one, can you wake up? So, I need to be able to wake up every day, so that was the first one that we start by inverting, and then we can start to stack all of these and say, " Okay, now that I can wake up and I make sure that that's true, what the next thing that would get in my way?" Well, what about if I showed up and I didn't have a plan? What about, I don't have a place to go. Okay, that could be the next one. Then the next after that is I need a plan. And so, you start to layer these things on versus trying to tack this all out once and thinking, I don't want to go, and I need to sleep, and I need to this, I need to that. I don't know why it's not working. You're systematically flipping the problem on its end and attacking it.

DG: Everything is related. You're obsessed, we've talked about the last couple of episodes, your obsession right now is systems thinking, and you can see how inversion lays out the system that you need to build.

DC: I'm reading right now, about 12 books on systems thinking, just so you know. One of them is really good. We talked about in the past, by Mr. Sengee. Professor Sengee wrote that book from MIT. Great book, but all of the systems thinking boils down to exactly what we're talking about today, which is how to use a framework to methodically step through a problem, and the reason that I'm reading the systems- thinking stuff, and the reason I think it's so useful is that most of us, or I should say all of us, pretty much, except from Professor Sengee, actually cannot apply that every day because it's very hard, so we get lost in the emotions, and lost in the details, and overwhelmed, and so we don't apply a systematic way of thinking.

DG: All right. We got to go in a couple of minutes, but I'm going to talk to Christopher Lochhead today.

DC: What?

DG: Yeah. Yeah the man himself.

DC: My sensei?

DG: Yes.

DC: Sensei?

DG: Yes, Sensei. I hope-

DC: Please refer to him as Sensei, okay?

DG: I will. As Sensei. I think the people need some book recommendations, so what have you got? What have you got?

DC: Okay, before I get into the book recommendations, I'm branching out.

DG: You're going to talk about the tea. I knew you were going to talk about the tea. If you're on YouTube right now, this is where-

DC: All right, don't forget that the nephew G2, he needs some subs.

DG: Some subs?

DC: He's looking for subs on YouTube. He's lonely and looking for subs on YouTube. So, if you were to be on YouTube and subscribe, you would see what I'm holding in my hand here. I learned this from another YouTuber, a jacked fellow, who's a keto master, so keto type of diet.

DG: Are you on the keto train?

DC: I'm trying to get there-

DG: Okay.

DC: ...because I'm so far away from 32s these days. I think one of my leg's now is a size 32. So, anyway, when he's in a fast, this is what he drinks. I'm going to give you the exact order. You can take this to Starbucks. This is a trenta, out of the largest, bigger than a venti, what you do is you order an iced black tea, half green tea, so it's half black iced tea, half green tea. No, liquid cane sugar. If you do not know, most of the drinks that are prepared at Starbucks, they pump in liquid cane sugar. You don't want the sugar, so you say, " No liquid cane sugar." Light ice, or else they'll fill it with too much ice. No water.

DG: No water.

DC: Okay, so I'm going to repeat that. Trenta, black iced tea, half green tea, no liquid cane sugar, light ice, no water.

DG: If you're not watching on YouTube right now, we will have given you this recipe. Okay.

DC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right there. So, that's a first recommendation that I'm going to give you.

DG: They put water in? I can't believe they put water in a drink.

DC: Yeah, they put water in tea. They cut it 50% by water.

DG: Crazy.

DC: So, you don't want the water in there.

DG: Okay.

DC: All right, from a book recommendation-

DG: Hold on, for the record though, we're recording this as 1: 58. DC ordered this at 10: 19, so it is an all- day drink.

DC: Yeah, I had to run into a meeting, so it's been on my desk since.

DG: He's been sipping it all day.

DC: The good thing is because it has light ice, it's not very watered down.

DG: And the water. Yeah, you're good.

DC: Yeah. So I'm good all day. All right, book crosstalk-

DG: So, what are you reading or listening to?

DC: I'm re- visiting right now. I'm almost nervous to give this one to the people, it's that good.

DG: Okay.

DC: It's that good.

DG: What is it?

DC: Some of the so- called people out there listening closely, so I'm even nervous to give this out. This book is called-

DG: What are you going to call them, haters?

DC: Haters.

DG: Spies?

DC: Spies. Spies is a good. I like that, spies. All right, this book, get ready for this one.

DG: What? I'm ready.

DC: It's called Good Strategy, Bad Strategy.

DG: Ooh.

DC: Okay, if you look up the cover, it's half black, half white, kind of split cover right there, the young nephew crosstalk.

DG: Okay. This is my-

DC: Who's the author?

DG: Richard Rumelt.

DC: Okay. This book was written in 2011. This book, if you're in business, this is the book you need to read. I don't say that often, but this is the book. I'm nervous giving this to the people.

DG: Is this is one of those?

DC: This is like a loaded weapon that I'm giving them.

DG: Really? This I one of those?

DC: Yeah. I'm giving them, this is an unfair advantage that I should be using for myself, selfishly-

DG: Yeah, but crosstalk-

DG: Where did you hear about

DG: this book? Actually, maybe that's too secret, you don't want to share that one.

DC: No, no, no. I can't give it.

DG: Okay.

DC: How much do you want me to give?

DG: I don't want you to give that much. I don't want you to give that much.

DC: Okay.

DG: Man, this is legit.

DC: And the-

DG: And the example's from Apple, General Motors-

DC: Come on, too much.

DG: Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Walmart. This is legit.

DC: It's too much.

DG: Invidia.

DC: All right, yes.

DG: Remember we saw the Invidia office, that place...

DC: Yeah.

DG: Like a spaceship.

DC: Really? Legit?

DG: Right across from service inaudible. Crazy.

DC: Wow.

DG: Yeah.

DC: The future. DG's said the future.

DG: The future.

DC: Okay, so I'm reading this book. I'm reading a whole bunch of other books, but I'm also reading a book right now, can't buy it yet, pre- released copy-

DG: What?

DC: ...that I got from the author. My homey.

DG: Who?

DC: Our homey.

DG: Who?

DC: Brad Stulberg.

DG: Whoa, he got you in the new work.

DC: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and so-

DG: That's cool.

DC: Brad Stulberg who's written the book, who's been on the podcast in the past, so if you haven't heard that, go back in the archives, dig in the crates, he wrote a book called Peak Performance.

DG: Yes.

DC: He is also a writer for Outside magazine and various other magazines. He has a new book that is now out yet, that I'm reading, that's around passion. I've been posting it on the IG's. You would know that if you followed me @ dcancel on the Instagrams, some of the stuff I've been posting. What do you have there, nephew? I see one book.

DG: There's some science there.

DC: Some gems.

DG: There's some science.

DC: Yeah.

DG: So, right now, the book I'm listening to is called, The Happiness Hypothesis.

DC: Okay, be careful with all those books.

DG: Yeah, I'm not-

DC: Hammer, don't hurt him.

DG: I'm not sharing them. I'm not sharing them all.

DC: Okay.

DG: The one is The Happiness Hypothesis. Super interesting book about people and how they make decisions, social psychology.

DC: Who is that again?

DG: Jonathan Haidt.

DC: That's right. I'm reading another book by Jonathan Haidt right now.

DG: Yeah, the book I'm reading right now, I've been splitting up like Audible is for like when I walk and commute and whatever, the books that I read are the ones that I more study and highlight and want to tear out and rip notes and some. Book by a guy named Mark Schaefer who I need to email because I want to have him come on my marketing podcast called Marketing Rebellion.

DC: Oh, wow.

DG: And he's basically talking about how the most human company wins, which is what we talk about a lot, it's very similar stuff we talk about.

DC: That's obvious. Obvious. I'm going to give you one more hat trick here, three inaudible, recommendation here, and this one's from Elias. Elias as you know, Mr. Torres, never read a book before, now he claims to be a reader.

DG: Yeah.

DC: Yeah. But when he reads a book, after I tell him about the book for five years-

DG: Oh, it's the worst. It's the worst. It's like I'm so happy for him. You're so happy for him that he read the book-

DC: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

DG: But then you're never going to hear the end of it.

DC: Okay, so the book that I'm never hearing the end of right now, and he quotes to me almost daily, is a book that was on your list. Every day, DG knows him well, so he knows how he's quoting to me daily from this book.

DG: Yeah.

DC: And this book is called, Never Split the Difference.

DG: Never Split the Difference.

DC: Yeah, Never Split the Difference. Check out that book, maybe we'll have Elias on to give us a book report.

DG: That'd be a great idea, actually

DC: Right?

DG: Let's do that. Let's do that.

DC: Let's put that on the list.

DG: Okay.

DC: So, he'll come on and read us that book.

DG: Okay, so I had another note, so let's have him on because I want to talk about two things with Elias, it'll be interesting-

DC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

DG: ...I wrote this down last week which is we should have him come on to talk about getting a coach.

DC: Yes.

DG: That'd be a good one.

DC: Mm- hmm(affirmative).

DG: And then we could also do a book review of Never Split the Difference.

DC: Yeah, coaching would be good. I'm in the midst of adding an additional coach to my coaching squad.

DG: Very good.

DC: So, I'm out there working on some coaches out there to help me grow a little bit. I'll give you one more book.

DG: Go.

DC: Fourth book because I'm always giving to the people.

DG: Yeah.

DC: Yeah, I love the people that much.

DG: I mean if you're reading 12, you could give us four, it wouldn't hurt.

DC: Okay. So, I got one more. I'm reading more than 12 just so you know. So, the next one, I don't know why I'm given them this, it's too much.

DG: What is it?

DC: It's Andy Grove's book.

DG: Not High Output Management?

DC: No, which we've talked about it in the past. I'm giving you a inaudible-

DG: Yeah, by the way, this is a podcast where Tim Ferris had Toby, CEO of Spotify-

DC: Yeah.

DG: ...not Spotify, Shopify on.

DC: Yep.

DG: His favorite book of all time, Andy Grove, High Output Management.

DC: Uh- huh( affirmative).

DG: And this is the dark Andy Grove book.

DC: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I'm going to give you the other book. The secret book that I haven't talked about-

DG: What?

DC: Which is called, Only the Paranoid Survive.

DG: Ooh.

DC: Okay.

DG: I've seen that.

DC: This is some heat I'm giving you people. I expect, at least, 47 reviews with six- star ratings only in the iTunes for all this stuff that we're giving out here.

DG: And make sure, go and check out the other shows, Maggie is rocking it with Build right now.

DC: Oh, that is my favorite Seeking Wisdom podcast.

DG: That's pretty good. That's a good bar.

DC: Yeah.

DG: That's a good bar. Maggie's got Build. Matt Bilotti's got the Growth podcast, really coming in strong.

DC: The young nephew's got a new one.

DG: We have a new marketing podcast which will be the feed is there, so you can go search for it.

DC: What's it called?

DG: Search for the Swipe File, Marketing Swipe File. You'll find that you can subscribe, you'll be the first to get the new episodes there. It's on iTunes and Spotify.

DC: And then we have Exceptions from Jay.

DG: We've got Jay's show Exceptions. And I heard a couple of rumors. I heard some rumors. I don't know if you're ready to talk about it yet, but I heard a couple of rumors.

DC: Oh, a new show?

DG: I heard about another new show.

DC: You can drop. You can give them a little something.

DG: I heard that DC is bringing you interviews with the best CEOS. CEO to CEO. So, I'm going to have to sit this one out. It's going to be DC, CEO to CEO. I've seen some of the names. I've gotten a sneak peek at some of the people that he's going to have on. I don't know what you're going to inaudible. Do you know what you're going to call it?

DC: I think it's called the David Cancel Show.

DG: That's pretty good. That's okay. That's okay. The CEO Show. The David Cancel Show.

DC: Yeah. The CEO Show-

DG: That's pretty good.

DC: The CEO Show's taken, so inaudible.

DG: Look, you might be thinking man's got a lot of podcasts. Exactly. What we're building is-

DC: A network.

DG: So, Seeking Wisdom started as a podcast, three years later, it has now morphed into a network. The Seeking Wisdom podcast network. It's a learning platform, that's why we're doing it all, so go and check them out. We've got a lot of good stuff to come. But make sure you listen to DC, six stars only.

DC: And by the time you listen to this, you can subscribe to my newsletter that I'm coming out with. Go to www. drift. com/ dc.

DG: Love it.

DC: See ya.

DG: See ya.


What happens when you flip a problem on its head? Today on Seeking Wisdom, DC and DG are talking about inversion: a beloved mental model of Warren Buffett’s billionaire business partner, Charlie Munger. Inverting a problem or challenge has endless practical applications in business and everyday life. Be sure to tune in to hear how you too can use inversion to overcome some of your biggest obstacles.