Basic problem-solving calls for imagining an
ideal future state, and
working backward to determine ways to get there.
I've found working backwards from an ideal state to be an interesting and useful exercise to gain insight into complex problems. Like any method, it is not a fool-proof guarantee for all of life's problems, but the thought exercise of envisioning step-by-step how to accomplish something can yield insights.
By thinking of a future event as one that has already occurred, you can imagine at least one sequence of processes that can be taken to generate the event. - Innovation Games
Here are a few references that provide additional context to "Working Backwards"
- Luke Hohmann
- Backwards Reasoning by ChangingMinds
- Working Backwards on Werner Vogel's All Things Distributed
- This clip art-y image
Something I find interesting about "working backwards" is the relationship to TDD (test-driven development) in software engineering. TDD calls for writing a test asserting the behavior that you want the system to perform. Then, you write the code that implements that behavior. Working backward functions similarly, in that you must assert what you want, and then it is just a matter of implementation.
Getting Things Done also outlines strategies for breaking down large, amorphous blobs of work into more doable things. Envisioning the desired outcome is fundamental to GTD as well.