Counterintuition

You can tell inversion is important by how many variations on the theme we see.

  • Munger’s inversion, as described by Peter Bevelin:

“Thinking backwards, we can determine what actions must be avoided. As Charles Munger says, ‘If you were hired by the World Bank to help India, it would be very helpful to determine the three best ways to increase man-years of misery in India – and, then, turn around and avoid those ways.’ ”

Instead of asking how we can achieve a goal, we ask the opposite question: What don’t I want to achieve (non-goal)? What causes the non-goal? How can I avoid that? What do I now want to achieve? How can I do that?”

  • Tim Ferriss: “What if I did the opposite?”

And here, from complexity theory, counterintuition. (s/o Steeve for sending me the article)

People know intuitively where leverage points are,” he says. “Time after time I’ve done an analysis of a company, and I’ve figured out a leverage point — in inventory policy, maybe, or in the relationship between sales force and productive force, or in personnel policy. Then I’ve gone to the company and discovered that there’s already a lot of attention to that point. Everyone is trying very hard to push it IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!

[…]

Counterintuitive. That’s Forrester’s word to describe complex systems. Leverage points are not intuitive. Or if they are, we intuitively use them backward, systematically worsening whatever problems we are trying to solve.*

The systems analysts I know have come up with no quick or easy formulas for finding leverage points. When we study a system, we usually learn where leverage points are. But a new system we’ve never encountered? Well, our counterintuitions aren’t that well developed. Give us a few months or years and we’ll figure it out. And we know from bitter experience that, because of counterintuitiveness, when we do discover the system’s leverage points, hardly anybody will believe us.

The idea of developing counterintuition is useful because it sits at the heart of the practice. It’s the work behind Munger’s point:

“Any year that you don’t destroy one of your best-loved ideas is probably a wasted year.”

The willingness to disorient ourselves, to unmoor from conviction into discovering, openness, learning.

So, instead of – rather in addition to – intuition, another skill: counterintuition.

* Same way we misuse fear. It’s intuitive, certainly can point to leverage points re: personal growth, but we tend to intuitively use it backward (running away from instead of daring greatly).

** Meadows’ article pairs nicely with Tiago Forte on behaviour change, habits as complex systems. Esp. in her 9 ways to achieve change in systems.