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5 Examples of Working Backwards

Working backwards is the process of solving problems or making decisions by starting with possible futures and working backwards towards the present. The following are illustrative examples.


Starting with some vision of the future and examining the steps that make that future happen.
Vision: Become CFO
Step 10: Become director in accounting
Step 9: Become manager in accounting
Step 8: Become corporate accountant
Step 7: Become certified public accountant
Step 6: Pass the CPA examination
Step 5: Study for CPA examination
Step 4: Graduate school
Step 3: Bachelor's Degree
Step 2: Acceptance into College
Step 1: Score high in standard tests


Working backwards from a principle to what you need to do to achieve this principle. This can include ethical principles, first principles or personal principles. For example, a student who begins with a principle to generate a list of careers.
Principle: Value freedom above all else
Possible direction: Self-employed
Possible career: Own a restaurant
Possible step: Learn to cook / learn about cuisine
Possible step: Work for a restaurant
Possible step: Read about the restaurant business

Reverse Brainstorming

Reverse brainstorming is the process of identifying what could go wrong. For example, if you are thinking of starting a restaurant you could list out the dozens of ways that it could fail. This can include an element of working backwards whereby you identify a failure first and then identify how that failure could occur.
Future failure #1: Bad reviews
Reason #1: Unfriendly service
Reason #2: Slow service
Reason #3: Food selection (uninspiring menu)
Reason #4: Food taste
Reason #5: Ambiance
Prevention #1: menu testing -- make sure menu items are perceived as tasty and a good value before they are launched.


End-goals are the results that you would ultimately like to achieve. People commonly think in terms of end-goals without spending much time thinking about all the work and sacrifice that is required to make those goals happen. As such, dwelling in end-goals can be a bad habit unless you work backwards from those goals to identify everything you need to do to make them happen.
End-goal: Be the easiest most convenient way to buy fashions.
Objective: Highly descriptive product pages
Objective: Free / no hassle returns
Objective: Fast delivery
Objective: Cost / price competitive
Action #1: Improve product pages to include high resolution images of products.


Not everything is a systematic process. It is possible to identify some desirable future state and then adopt a general set of behaviors that are likely to make this happen. In other words, future states can be achieved with directed behavior and intentions.
Vision: make friends
Intention: try to view people in a positive light
Intention: be friendly
Intention: be myself / show my personality
Intention: be polite / respectful / reasonable
Overview: Working Backwards
The process of solving problems or making decisions by starting with possible futures and working backwards towards the present.
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Problem Solving

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A/B Testing
Abductive Reasoning
Analysis Paralysis
Accidental Complexity
Big Picture
Cause And Effect
Backward Induction
Critical Thinking
Design Thinking
First Principles
Five Whys
Challenging Assumptions
Formal Logic
Collective Intelligence
Four Causes
Common Sense
Game Theory
Conceptual Framework
Counterfactual Thinking
Deductive Reasoning
Essential Complexity
Known Unknowns
Excluded Middle
Failure Of Imagination
Magical Thinking
Feedback Loop
Pareto Analysis
Peer Review
Problem Statements
Qualitative Analysis
Fuzzy Logic
Real Problems
Root Cause
Inductive Reasoning
Sanity Check
Informal Logic
Systems Thinking
Thought Experiment
Working Backwards
Working Hypothesis
Path Of Least Resistance
Preserving Ambiguity
Problem Statement
Propositional Logic
Reverse Brainstorming
Root Cause Analysis
Test And Learn
More Than One Way
Unintended Consequences
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