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Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don't Make Sense
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Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don't Make Sense

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  3,825 ratings  ·  443 reviews
A breakthrough book. Wonderfully applicable to everything in life, and funny as hell.’ Nassim Nicholas Taleb

To be brilliant, you have to be irrational

Why is Red Bull so popular – even though everyone hates the taste? Why do countdown boards on platforms take away the pain of train delays? And why do we prefer stripy toothpaste?

We think we are rational creatures. Economics
Paperback, 384 pages
Published May 9th 2019 by WH Allen (first published May 7th 2019)
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Average rating 4.26  · 
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K.J. Charles
The premise of this book by an ad man is that sometimes you have to use non-obvious or seemingly irrational ways to sell things to people because we don't all behave with strict rationality. ('Ideas' in the title refers almost exclusively to making and selling products, and occasionally to selling behaviour changes.) This is potentially very interesting and does have some very good insights about framing choices and changing minds, if you sift through the chaff.

Unfortunately there is a lot of c
Phil Deutsch
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
A whirlwind of hot air

Rory Sutherland really wants you to know how smart he is. Not only that, but he also wants you to know how stupid everyone else is. Consultants, accountants, economists, stock market analysts: all idiots. According to Mr. Sutherland, only creative people like him who don't succumb to blindly following reason, logic and science will be successful.

The book reminds me of that friend who keeps bragging about their fantastic stock market picks - always neglecting to mention when
Rishabh Srivastava
May 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Delightful read. Breezy and irreverent. The author talks about scenarios where a purely "logical" approach can lead to worse outcomes for business.

Had some thought-provoking points. But wasn't particularly well structured.

My key takeaways were:
1. Economic theory is an insufficient way to identify value proposition - both in B2B and B2C scenarios. Loss avoidance and personal status gains are a much stronger motivators than prospects for economic gains

2. The way a question is phrased can influence
jasmine sun
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: business, psychology
3x longer than it needs to be, and nothing new if you’ve read any pop/business psychology before (or have a humanistic background).

the tips are better for life hackers and marketers than attempts to improve the world, so i’d disregard his comments on social/governance issues, which he comes off as pretty ignorant about.

i will say that the anecdotes and short chapters make it easy and enjoyable to read. and if you haven’t read similar books, it might introduce new information on why psychologic
Aug 04, 2020 rated it did not like it
This book should come with a warning for its display of sexism and white, wealthy middle-aged eurocentric male views. If you can get past that, you might find some of the ideas interesting.

The acknowledges his children for their help on political correctness. Well, either his children did not do a good enough job, or he did not listen to them.
Susan (aka Just My Op)
I was given an advance readers copy of this book.

While ostensibly a book for advertisers and marketers, I wanted to read this because I wondered why Red Bull is so popular, why some of the ads that seem so awful to me are nevertheless successful. But mostly, I wanted another glimpse into how our minds work. This book did not disappoint.

It was both insightful and humorous. “The advertisements which bees find useful are flowers – and if you think about it, a flower is simply a weed with an advert
Jim Razinha
Aug 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: review-copies
I had a difficult time getting into this book, an uncorrected proof received for review from the publisher through LibraryThing. Barely forty pages over a miss and miss (as opposed to hit or miss) month and a half. As the illogic would have it, 3.5 hours spent waiting for the chance to be told the documents I brought to renew my driver license were insufficient (grrr) gave me an extended window to dig in, and dig in I did. Lots of margin notes and sticky note flags. Sifting them for review relev ...more
Piinhuann Chew
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
To be honest my rating is 4.5 stars but the Goodreads' system doesn't allow rating "1/2 star".

This book first flipped my brain upside down, then it mashed my brain vigorously and I found that my brain became very pulpy and mushy after finished reading this book.

The author successfully proved that conventional logic and wisdom fails more than what people think through many real life examples in the book. The central message of the book is that "No one knows anything!". Even Physicists who are Nob
Warwick Cairns
Jul 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A really thought-provoking book that makes a powerful case for why we should realise that the emotional and psychological aspects of why we do the things we do should be treated with as much seriousness as the logical aspects.

Some reviewers have jumped to unwarranted conclusions about Sutherland's case. I've seen it said that he rejects logic and science, that he's anti-truth or post-truth. So I thought I'd finish with a quote from the book itself, to make things perfectly clear:

"I’m not asking
Angela Magic Art
The beginning of this book, probably the first third, 5 stars! Super thought provoking and interesting. Will probably reread the beginning again at some point! The other two thirds, kind of redundant, and a little dull. The very end was mostly just politics, which I didn’t find that helpful. As with a lot of business/self help books. I think it was too long.
Sep 25, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Great cover; content was just meh.
Eric Waschak
Nov 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was quite fun to read and helped tie together more of the concepts I’ve been mulling over from Cialdini’s Influence and The Undoing Project (a bio of Tversky and Kahneman).
Sean Goh
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biz, psych
Should be required reading for all the technocrats weaned at the altar of Logos. Question assumptions, ask silly questions, and remember that people (mostly) aren't Homo Econominus.
The economy is not a machine. It is a highly complex system. Machines don't allow for magic, complex systems do.
Engineering does not allow for magic. Psychology does.

If we allow the world to be run by logical people, we will only discover logical things. But in real life, most things aren't logical - they are psyc
Tom Ausra
Jun 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Mind blowing
Anurag Dahal
Mar 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
By the means of unconventional logic and for some irrational reasons, I give this book five stars. Lol
Brew Schmuck
Jan 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
An average book that could’ve been so much more had Sutherland been more patient and his editor willing to work with it. It suffers horribly from the “Nassim Taleb syndrome” of repeating the same sentence over and over hoping no one will say anything. Well I’ll say something. It’s okay if the total amount of material you got amounts to like 50 printed pages. You don’t need to play with giant empty white spaces and repetitions to get it to 300.

In short the book starts off well and I honestly beli
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you need to improve public transport service, the rational option is to invest in new roads, tracks, vehicles, stations -and this will set you back tens/hundreds of millions. The alternative is to invest a couple of hundred grand into better displays that tell you exactly when the next train/bus is due. Less anxiety > increased perception of quality for a fraction of cost.

Rory Sutherland calls this lateral problem solving "alchemy", and the book is full of related anecdotes and examples. And
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tough to appreciate for us math types

It would be tremendously difficult to appreciate this book if you, like me, are from a background in mathematics and/ot data science. Many conclusions, theories and thought experiments in this book will appear outright ridiculous, impossible or even outrageous. But there are golden Nuggets of knowledge where you won't only agree with what the author is saying but also would feel you've experienced the same phenomena. Author tries clubbing several human behavi
Alex Zakharov
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sutherland beautifully follows Schopenhauer's maxim to "use common words to say uncommon things, rather than the opposite". "Alchemy" is a profound meditation on human behavior dressed in historical anecdotes, jokes, and marketing stories. The tone is light and chapters are short, but the book is brimming with ideas that are counterintuitive and deep.

To me personally three themes particularly stood out. First, the Girardian nature of the book - Sutherland's thoughts on when to avoid what amount
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent. Absolutely excellent. Not too many books have an insight--a major insight--on every page. This one does.

Sutherland has a great gift for explaining things by often hilarious analogy, and it makes the book a genuine pleasure to read (in the author's language, he "scents the soap"), while it shows readers the benefits of pursuing the seemingly illogical, the non-obvious, the counter-intuitive... or at the least, doing something that's never been tried before. "After all, if it worked and
Sairam Krishnan
Jul 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Entertaining and insightful. Rory Sutherland's Alchemy is a book that goes straight on to the pile of marketing tomes I keep on my desk for easy access and reference. This stack includes Seth Godin's This is Marketing, another great title, and which I was continuously reminded of as I read Alchemy - maybe they should be read together.

Sutherland is a practitioner, which makes his examples and stories so much more credible - this is no intellectual preaching at us from arm's length. And his plea t
Dec 27, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: multidiscipline
-Let’s start with where the author’s point of view comes from... this guy seems to be big fan of Nassim N Taleb and Daniel Kahneman. Well... this gives me an excuse to begin my review with a Quote from “Skin in the Game” by Nassim Taleb..
“Survival comes first, truth understanding and science later.”
-This line is true with evolution and life on this planet. We have come this far as a species with importance given in the order as per above quote. Evolution is not always rational and logical, at le
Ved Gupta
Aug 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I had listened to a lot of podcasts by Rory Sutherland. This book was equivalents to listening all of them together. I absolutely love the psychological tricks that our mind plays on our actions and a great marketer's ability to exploit them is just astounding. Read this book if the field of marketing and human behavior makes you curious. ...more
Mikhail Kalashnikov
Dec 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The best business book I’ve ever read. Made at least a hundred notes while reading, extremely thought-provoking.
Apr 16, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In short: Behaviourial Economics (you know things like 'bias', 'heuristic', 'Daniel Kahneman', etc) explained by an advertising guy. Fun to read with a lot of insights and a lot of examples that worked. If you like Jonah Berger and Dan Ariely, you'd probably like this too. ...more
Douglas Summers-Stay
I came across this book during my search for books on the history of alchemy in Prague, but it ended up being relevant to the course I'm teaching on cognitive science for user-experience design majors, so I finally opened it up. The premise is that logic is overrated, and that other approaches are better for business and innovation. This is such a stupid premise that I almost closed the book in disgust. There's nothing wrong with logic; what's wrong is assuming your model of the world, and espec ...more
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An insightful and very surprising book about marketing and how not everything can be solved with logic. Rory gets his points across with an abundance of real life examples that makes things easy to grasp and then he backs it up with scientific studies. He also adds a healthy dose of humor, which certainly doesn't hurt. I think everybody should read this book, one doesn't have to be in a marketing profession to get something out of it. ...more
Henri Tournyol du Clos
An innumerate braggart's barroom rant against various strawmen whom he mostly calls "economists" (basically, anyone capable of using a spreadsheet, which obviously does not include him) and who, he assures repeatedly through dubious anectodes, are much less intelligent than he is. Boris Johnson or Balzac's L'Illustre Gaudissart spring to mind as one closes the book after 80 pages or so with one last shrug, never to open it again. There were a few interesting and quotable tidbits, though:

- "The m
Ashish Sharma
Mar 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Rory does a great job at explaining the soft things that veil themselves in the relentless quest of humans to rationalise stuff. Humans have embarked into this infinite quest of reducing the world into a set of theories and formulas

That's not how humans work all the time. Humans are irrational a lot of times, and that has an evolutionary advantage. This books helps us understand why millions are spent on advertising and marketing. And why these costs don't make sense to the rational mind. The ra
Jaak Ennuste
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
There are things that make sense and work, and things that don't make sense and work. Life largely revolves around the former, rarely around the latter. Nonetheless the category of things which do not make rational sense, yet work (Alchemy, in other words), can produce great results. The difficulty is not getting fired or not looking extremely dumb when trying out stuff that is hard to justify rationally. We should be more open minded about asking very basic questions and digging deep into seemi ...more
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Rory Sutherland is the vice-chairman of Ogilvy UK and the co-founder of its Behavioural Science Practice. He is the author of Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas that Don’t Make Sense, writes The Spectator’s Wiki Man column, presents several series for Radio 4, serves on the advisory board of the Evolution Institute and is former president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. His T ...more

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“the human mind does not run on logic any more than a horse runs on petrol” 8 likes
“you are not thinking; you are merely being logical” 5 likes
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