Principle of Inversion and Anti-Goals

Key Point: Let’s learn from Warren Buffett’s business partner, Charlie Munger, and the co-founders of Tiny. First, reflect on these three Munger quotes: “1. A lot of success in life and business comes from knowing what you want to avoid: Early death, a bad marriage, etc…” “2. It is remarkable how much long-term advantage we have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent…” “3. Problems frequently get easier if you turn them around in reverse. In other words, if you want to help India, the question you should ask is not ‘how can I help India,’ it’s ‘what is doing the worst damage in India and how do I avoid it?

Munger is talking about inversion in the last quote; the idea that problems are best solved when they are reversed. It’s often easier to think about what you don’t want before what you do. My experience is that both people and organizations are out of balance regarding the amount of time spent determining what they want to achieve versus what they’d like to avoid or stop doing. And strategic legacy planning processes often just add stuff up without declaring anti-goals. The outcome becomes lists of stuff to do/measure and are made up of executives’ favorite ideas that reflect compromise more than clear intent. 

I loved the blog by Tiny co-founder, Andrew Wilkinson, where he put Munger’s wisdom into action. In his words:

“So, instead of thinking through what we wanted our perfect day to look like, we thought about the worst day imaginable and how to avoid it. We inverted and came up with what we call Anti-Goals.

Our worst possible day looked like this:

  1. Full of long meetings.
  2. A packed calendar.
  3. Dealing with people we don’t like or trust.
  4. Owing people things/not being in control/obligations.
  5. Having to be at the office.
  6. Travel.
  7. Tired.

Working backwards from there, we made this set of Anti-Goals:

  1. Never schedule an in-person meeting when it can otherwise be accomplished via email or phone (or not at all).
  2. No more than two hours of scheduled time per day.
  3. No business or obligations with people we don’t like—even just a slight bad vibe and it’s a hard no.
  4. Never give up voting control of our businesses, no favors from people who could need something from us (ensure the rule of reciprocity doesn’t kick in).
  5. Work from a cafe across from a beautiful park where we can come and go as we please with nobody to bother us.
  6. Video conference or pay for people to come visit us.
  7. Never schedule morning meetings, sleep in when needed.

Problem solved.

Of course, we still have the odd unavoidable crappy day, but these simple Anti-Goals have made our lives immeasurably better by setting an Anti-Goal instead of a goal. Try it sometime, it’s insanely simple and strangely powerful.”

Character Moves:

  1. Try inversion and anti-goals. As Wilkinson notes, it is a simple yet powerful process. Sometimes to be crystal clear about what you want, the best starting route is to get there through declaring what you don’t want first. I do argue however that establishing BOTH goals and anti-goals are important. The processes are related, but different. Connect them. 
  2. Don’t be become that person that whines about how stupid your schedule is, how crazy hard you’re working, and how everyone/thing else is making you miserable. Be self-accountable and do something about it. Try inversion and anti-goals. It will help you break the cycle and move forward with more control over your situation than you might realize. 

Anti-goals in The Triangle,

Lorne 

One Millennial View: I love Munger and Wilkinson’s quotes and the freedom they’ve allotted themselves with anti-goals. Some Millennials might read this and say, “But, I don’t have the professional control to accomplish my anti-goals.” That could be the case at the moment, but, at least by “setting” anti-goals, you can get a better sense of where you’d like to make your professional life more malleable as you further your career.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

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