Ditching ‘we can do it’ for ‘what if we don’t’

Michel Hogan /

Every week I try and share a smattering of different ways you can get to your brand result. But everything doesn’t work for everyone, so here’s another way of thinking about what you’re doing.

A couple of weeks ago, in the #brandtodo I posted to LinkedIn and Twitter, I suggested you take a look at stuff to stop doing. But how do you know what things to stop?

Enter James Clear and “the crucial thinking skill no one ever taught you”. So what is this magic missing skill to help you ditch wasted effort and bound unencumbered towards your brand result? Inversion.

“This way of thinking, in which you consider the opposite of what you want, is known as inversion. When I first learned of it, I didn’t realize how powerful it could be. As I have studied it more, I have begun to realize that inversion is a rare and crucial skill that nearly all great thinkers use to their advantage.”

For more #brandtodo ideas click here.

This kind of ‘imagine the worst that can happen and how you would survive it’ thinking is a foundation of Stoic philosophy. Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus all used it to help prepare them for life. Modern Stoic practitioners such as Tim Ferriss regularly spend weeks living on meager food to test their mettle against misfortune.

‘Think positive’ memes and models litter the modern landscape. I’m not suggesting you abandon your ‘we can do it’ attitude, however there’s a stronger likelihood you will do it if you spend some time on considering what happens it all goes to hell. Not just a quick five minutes, but a good long deep dive. Colour it in, give it some teeth.

Let’s say the new product bombs. An investor falls through at the eleventh hour. That vital team member leaves. A major client defects. Someone publishes something untrue about you online. The showroom floods. The shipment gets stuck in customs.

All the above examples have happened to various clients of mine over the years. Would a bit of inversion thinking have helped ahead of the incidents? I think so.

Let’s take the new product. The plans were carefully mapped. Giant charts galore. Development was on schedule and rigorous beta testing conducted for bugs and problems. Many late nights were spent tweaking and retweaking the web site and message. And when it launched… nada. Barely a trickle of sales.

Could inversion thinking have helped? Back to the article for some guidance:

“Imagine the most important goal or project you are working on right now. Now fast forward six months and assume the project or goal has failed.

Tell the story of how it happened. What went wrong? What mistakes did you make? How did it fail? In other words, think of your main goal and ask yourself, “What could cause this to go horribly wrong?”

Read the whole article. The applications of this approach are endless and, from a brand result standpoint, imperative. The brand is the result of the promises you keep. Thinking about how you might not keep the promise is a terrific way to both test them and fix and blocks or holes before they become a problem.

See you next week.

NOW READ: Personal brand and how to find your message

Michel Hogan

Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at

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