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Retrograde Analysis: Use retrograde analysis to solve problems effectively

Retrograde Analysis: Use retrograde analysis to solve problems effectively

We’ve all had our fair share of tough decisions – “Should I quit my job?”, “Should I take that promotion even though I’ll need to move my home or live far away from my family?” On top of the “should’s” the next steps to consider are the “how to’s.” That’s when all the decisions you need to make can get overwhelming. The time it takes to make a decision can be as high as 30%.[1]

You don’t have to let the decision-making process consume precious time of your day. Instead, make it more efficient by using a strategy called Retrograde analysis.

If you’re an avid chess player, retrograde analysis may sound familiar to you – and you may be surprised to see it here.

What is Retrograde Analys?

Retrograde analysis, a strategy that is used in game theory, helps to make decisions early to achieve your desired outcome. This strategy can help you avoid making difficult decisions.

Retrograde analysis is used for working backwards from the end of a game to the game’s starting state.[2] This strategy involves looking backwards to see which moves lead to a desired outcome.[3] This thinking approach can be applied to every day decisions.

Retrograde Analysis for Chess

To study the final moves of a chess match, chess grandmasters use retrograde analyses. This point is important for two reasons.

  1. They would like to be able to play the game in a simpler way.
  2. They wish to master the art of chess maneuvers earlier in the game in order to achieve a simpler point and thus the desired outcome.

Retrograde analysis allows chess players to plan their moves in advance and win the game. You can use retrograde analysis to find your ending moves in your decisions, and to help guide you towards your ultimate goal.

To explain retrograde analysis more clearly, let’s get into the perspective of a chess player.

Imagine you’re seated in front of a chessboard. You are playing with black pieces while your opponent is playing with white pieces.

Each of the 32 pieces in chess are displayed before you. They each have their own rules about how they can all be moved. Your opponent’s king, the piece you need to take out in order to win is safe and snug behind an army of pieces capable of thwarting your advance. While you ponder how to breakdown your opponent’s defense, you also remember you need to protect your king.

Chess Game Start Point

This game has many possibilities, depending on how you play it.

Retrograde analysis was a great way to prepare for this chess game. You studied a game where you had your previous opponent’s king cornered with a rook (a checkmate!). Your previous opponent’s king then had limited places to go.

Game in Progress

This is the result you want. You can now reduce the number of possible moves in the current game. Instead of trying to remember all the possible moves and starting moves, focus on using other pieces than your rook to make sure you have enough to play for the final checkmate. To keep your king safe, you can choose to not move it too far.

By envisioning how the chessboard should look, you can determine which pieces (your king or rook) to keep from moving (the king and rook), as well as which pieces (the other pieces) to use first. This will help you narrow down your choices of pieces to move first.

Real life retrograde analysis is more complicated than chess. However, you can still use it to help narrow your options. To do this, visualize your end result and think backwards.

How to use Retrograde Analysis to Solve Complex Problems

While retrograde analysis sounds great in chess, what about real life problems. Here are some examples where retrograde analysis is possible.

Example 1: Planning an event at work

Imagine that you have been given the task of organizing a large-scale event for your company.

You and your team may have many questions. Do you want it indoors or outdoors? How’s the parking situation? How many people can we fit – and that being asked, who should we invite or not invite?

This event has many moving parts, much like a chessboard. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at this point, take a deep break and reel yourself back – try retrograde analysis.

Don’t be intimidated by an event of this size – think about the major components of the ideal event. Imagine that July is your target month and you are looking for a venue. This is where you can envision an outdoor event in the summer heat.

Outdoor events give you a base on which to make your next decisions. You can decide what activities you want to do during the event by having it outdoors. It will also help you understand logistics. For example, how many people are allowed to attend based upon the location and parking.

You know what you want and you can start to plan your move.

“If you can see the end game, your youth will not be wasted on you” – Maurice Ashley, master chess player

Example 2: Reaching your Career Goal

It is exciting but not easy to get promoted. You don’t know where to start to make your moves stand out to your superiors. Although planning your moves first might seem like the best way to go, retrograde analysis may be a more natural approach.

In this case you know your desired outcome – a promotion. You can now start thinking backwards.

Consider, for example, when is the most likely time that a promotion will occur in your work line. Say you estimate that should be around five years – you now have a timeline that you can use to plot out your moves.

Notice how retrograde analysis focuses on what the most relevant and outcome-oriented “moves.” This effectively prevents you from being caught up in decisions that would either distract you from your end goal or set you down the wrong path.

You may now be able to see another benefit of retrograde analysis for problem solving: the connection with intention. Your actions will be more insightful if you understand the various decisions made during a problem solving process. [4]

Bottom line

Retrograde analysis can not only improve your chess skills, but also help you solve problems more effectively. This strategy will help you keep your desired outcome in the forefront of all your decisions. It also allows you to critically consider the options that could possibly lead to your desired outcome.

The next time you find yourself facing a complex problem try using retrograde analysis – you may find that getting to where you want to go is easier than you thought.

Featured photo credit: Wander Fleur via unsplash.com

Refer to

[1] McKinsey & Company: Decision making in the age of urgency
[2] Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers – Retrograde Analysis of Fighting Games
[3] Global Student Engagement: A retrograde analysis of Chile’s student engagement hypothesis
[4] Global Student Engagement: A retrograde analysis of Chile’s student engagement hypothesis

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Lifehack’s Retrograde Analysis: Use Backwards Thinking to Solve Problems Effectively originally appeared on Lifehack.

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