Inversion thinking principle: the power of avoiding f*ck ups

How artists and creators can increase their creative impact
Inversion thinking principle: the power of avoiding f*ck ups
Jake McNeill
June 3, 2021
5 min read
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Charlie Munger is the billionaire business partner of Warren Buffet.

He was a meteorologist in the 2nd World War. His job was to help US pilots land their planes safely in extremely challenging conditions.

Charlie took an unorthodox but extremely effective approach. 

First, he considered all the human errors that would result in the planes crashing. Once he knew the problems, Charlie simply inverted the negative and turned them into solutions to the problems.

By being aware and avoiding all scenarios that caused failure, Charlie couldn’t help but succeed. 

Often the way to be more successful is to avoid the obstacles that prevent success. 

This is called inversion thinking. 

 It’s about approaching what you want to achieve in reverse. 

It is a unique and counterintuitive strategy to problem-solving which starts with imagining the worst-case scenarios – and then using those scenarios as the basis for developing the solutions

What is the Science?

As humans, we’re wired with an automatic negativity bias, paying more attention to what’s negative than positive.” —Elisha Goldstein PhD

We have a negativity bias. Our brains are programmed to see more negative threats than positive outcomes.

Therefore the more worst-case scenarios we consider the more positive solutions we create by inverting our thinking. 

In other words, the way to be more positive is to first be negative. 

This increases the chances of success.

Your brain is programmed to looks for negatives. Once they have been uncovered, do the opposite to create the positive. 

You can use inversion thinking to solve most complex problems. 

Credit: Tech Tello

Inversion thinking for creativity

We are all born creative geniuses according to the 1,600 5-year-old kids who used the NASA creativity test in 1968.

98% of 5-year-olds were creative geniuses. The same kids were tested every 5 years. 

The results were both interesting and a bit depressing. 

Only 30% of the 10-year-olds remained creative geniuses

Only 12% of the 15-year-olds remained creative geniuses. 

Remember, these are the same kids tested. 

They stopped after this. 

They tested 280,000 adults with an average age of 31. Only 2% of adults they tested were creative geniuses.

What is the problem? 

  1. The education system
  2. Human fear and self-doubt

George Bland who built the creativity test for NASA recognises that the decline in our creativity as we get older is partly due to the school system and partly down to fear.

Our schooling hasn’t been about creating innovative solutions to problems, it’s been to memorise and repeat the answers. 

Creativity is like a muscle. It needs to be exercised or it will wither. 

The other area, which is a much bigger obstacle is creative blocks. 

Creative blocks are fears and self-doubt. 

We are going to focus on fears today. 

We are scared of failing, being rejected, or coming across as stupid so we dilute our ideas, our art, and how we show up in the world. 

Fear holds us back. To maximise our creativity, we must overcome our fears. 

Removing the grip of fear is the best creativity hack. 

Here’s a list of your biggest obstacles:

  • Am I good enough?  — for many, they’re too scared to try in case they discover they don’t have the talent to succeed. 

Failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And you are left with a “What If?” to secretly torment yourself with for the rest of your days. 

The truth is creative success is more about consistently showing up using process goals than talent. 

You need to have enough talent and the ability to improve upon it. 

That’s it. 

Everything else is another version of the above. 

Fear of failure = Am I good enough?

Fear of rejection = Am I good enough?

Perfectionism = Am I good enough?

Procrastination = Am I good enough?


Feelings of inadequacy are derived from comparing ourselves to others. 

We are inspired and intimidated by the success of others in our niche. 

I can guarantee you that every artist or creator that dominates your market was shit once. 

They will look back at their early work and cringe. This is true of everyone that has created anything in the history of the world. 

Are you good enough right now? 

Probably not. 

Will you be good enough after you’ve posted a tweet every day for a year? — Yep.

Or written 100 songs? — Yep

Or published 100 blog posts? — Yep

Or interviewed 100 guests on your podcast — Yep

The truth is it doesn’t matter if you’re good enough now. As long as you start. Create a process goal and a schedule to create every day, you will get good enough.

I’ve written about hacking a niche from scratch here.  It’s a mental model called: The Feynman Method

The neuroscience of hacking your fear

The best way to get comfortable with fear is to do something that scares you every day. 

“Exposure is hands down the most successful way to deal with phobias, anxiety disorders, and everyday fears of any sort,”says neuroscientist Philippe Goldin
“Simply repeatedly exposing ourselves to the thing we’re afraid of — ideally in a positive way — gradually brings down the physiologic fear response until it’s gone, or at least manageable.”

Our natural reaction is to run from fear but the truth is to fulfil our creative potential we must run towards fear.

That means getting out of our comfort zones. I often say to clients, that you can’t be comfortable and a creative: 

A comfortable creative isn’t pushing themselves and taking risks; they are hiding — and ultimately achieving nothing. 

Creative hackers can apply loads of scientific, philosophical, and mathematics strategies and mental models to achieve more creatively. 


  • Our enemy is creative mediocrity. We are striving to master our craft, fine-tune our thinking and create extraordinary creative work.
  • We can use mental models to gain a fresh perspective and see things through a different lens in order to expand our thinking and our creativity.
  • Inversion thinking: Don’t look at what will make the project successful but rather look at what will make the project fail. Once you know all the risks, find the solutions to prevent them from happening. 
  • Fear is the greatest challenge to creating extraordinary work. Do something the scares you every day. Don’t run from fear, run towards it. The more you expose yourself to fear the less impact it will have on you. It will always be there but it will no longer stop you from fulfilling your creative potential.
  • Peak creative performance is an achievable goal for everyone who wants it enough to take it. Build a process and a schedule and publish your work. It won’t be easy. Nothing worth having ever is. 

A bit about me

I help maverick artists and creatives make a racket in crowded markets, crush the creative blocks that hold them back, and build engaged audiences.

Every creative rebel’s worst enemy?

Creative mediocrity: Being bland. Staying in our lane. Creating in our comfort zone and following the crowds.

The Goal? To create authentic work that matters. Take creative risks, avoid creative burnout, and making a racket in saturated markets.

I’m a former multi-platinum artist manager who got burnt out and became a creative blogger, coach, and consultant.

I’ve challenged myself to write 50 articles in 50 working days. 15 down, 35 to go.

Find out more information on my website or connect on my LinkedIn

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