Reverse Thinking vs Inverse Thinking

One is for reverting to the past, and the other is for brainstorming the future.

First things first. Reversion is the action of returning to a previous state or conditionInversion is a reversal of position, order, form, or relationship.

There is a certain nuance between reversion and inversion. Reversion typically looks back, while inversion looks from within.

It’s like the difference between sophistication and complication. They both have meanings of “intricate” or “complexity“ in their definitions, but sophistication has “elegance” in terms of nuance, while complication has “convolution” in its meaning.

There is a saying that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Making something really simple to use requires a lot of thought because it breaks the balance and complicates it once you make it simpler.

Reverse Thinking

In terms of mindset, reverse thinking focuses on putting things back where they were, which is quite helpful as it can bring you back to a place of stability. When we lose our way back, we often feel a sense of despair — like crying over spilled milk.

This is why the most used shortcut is Ctrl+Z or Cmd+Z. It’s the undo shortcut. I’ve used this shortcut a dozen times in writing this piece.

We would want a refund when we feel we didn’t get our money’s worth.

When implementing something, we should always consider how to reverse it, especially when it involves people using what we’ve built.

In my work, I often push clients to onboard into our system and use our APIs. It is easy to miss the details on how to offboard them. There should always be a way to put things back where they were.

Sometimes, I call out dev teams for short-sighted things, such as only accounting for C and R of CRUD (Create-Read-Update-Delete) in their implementations. Then when shit hits the fan, they revert by manually running SQL scripts in production databases.

Account for the revert plans in everything you do to lessen reactivity. If you plan to jump both feet in, at least take ownership of your choice.

Inverse Thinking

While reverse thinking provides you with a comfort zone, inverse thinking gives you a source of insight. This can mean thinking about seeing things by considering the reversal of expectations.

For example, instead of brainstorming ideas about increasing sales, you might gain more insight when considering ways to decrease them.

Our reflection in the mirror is technically called a “lateral inversion.” This means it swaps our left and right but does not swap our top and bottom. This is also why it always messes with my mind to look at my car mirror while driving: If the reflection shows the car signaling left, it’s going to your left.

My point here is the reversal of expectations is natural with inversions. We can leverage this to be more strategic and creative with problem-solving.

Another way of doing inversions is to hold all variables fixed except one and slide them into extremes.

An example is the RGB (Red, Blue, Green) scale. If you hold R and G and slide B, you will get different shades of yellow. You will get purple shades if you hold R and B and slide G. You will get cyan shades if you hold B and G and slide R.

You will get all the other colors if you try to differentiate all three. Lots of possibilities there.

Wrapping Up

I discussed reverse and inverse thinking and how to use them to your advantage. Use reverse thinking as a reminder to consider the opposite of what you are doing and inverse thinking to bring up new angles of insight when generating ideas.

If you want weekly updates in your email, please consider subscribing to my Substack.