Alchemy Summary By Rory Sutherland

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

Alchemy (2018) is a thought-provoking book that takes a deep dive into the idea of irrational thinking in an age dominated by logic.

Rudd Sutherland, drawing on years of experience in advertising and behavioral psychology, believes that with issues requiring complex solutions, one must be willing to accept even the most unexpected and seemingly illogical ideas.

The book presents a case for embracing such methods as it explores how superficial analysis is often not enough to address everyday problems.

Through anecdotes and findings from author's own research, Alchemy encourages its readers to use their imagination and creativity to become true alchemists themselves.


Book Name: Alchemy (The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life)

Author(s): Rory Sutherland

Rating: 4.4/5

Reading Time: 20 Minutes

Categories: Marketing & Sales

Author Bio

Rory Sutherland is recognized and respected as one of the most influential advertising professionals in today's world.

He's been a part of Ogilvy, an award-winning advertising agency, since 1988 and has held the position of Vice Chairman there.

In addition to his time with Ogilvy, Sutherland has written The Wiki Man (2011) and given Ted Talks on multiple occasions.

He also frequently contributes articles to magazines like the Spectator, Market Leader, and Impact.

Every where he goes, he shares his unique mix of insights into the business world and philosophy on life.

How to Think Irrationally and Unlock Creative Problem-Solving Solutions

Solving Solutions

The world we live in is shaped by logic — from the spreadsheets we use to run businesses, data-driven technology and economic models.

But relying too heavily on logic can lead to tunnel vision, limiting our ability to think out of the box and solve real human problems.

Economists, policy makers, and business owners are particularly at risk here.

They may assume that people all behave in a certain way, motivated by universal aims…which is far from the case in reality.

To really influence people’s decisions then, requires departing from reason and entertaining unlikely — if not irrational — possibilities.

This is best described as alchemy — and is more achievable than you’d think.

By understanding how humans really work (instead of theorizing about it), you can free yourself up to tap into entirely new ideas outside of logical confines.

In these sections then, a blueprint for better understanding the human psyche will be explored; along with learning how taking an illogical approach can help us unlock creative solutions we never would have thought possible otherwise!

Logic Has Its Limitations: Why Our Irrational Decisions Can Lead to Unexpected Insights

Logic is vital in many aspects of our lives, however when it comes to humans and the unpredictability of their behavior, logic does not always apply.

We have all seen this in action when it comes to things like brand loyalty, especially for products that provide no obvious advantage over others but yet we still prefer one over the other OR take a look at something as simple as toothpaste – why do people surprisingly choose stripy toothpaste even though they provide us with no clear advantage? It’s because clever design works on a completely irrational and often unpredictable level – which is why assumptions made about people based on logic can fail terribly.

We often try to approach human behavior logically, and base our ideas around case studies or economic models.

For example, businesses think that productivity increases with hours worked However what if more leisure time is actually better for their employees so that they feel motivated and happy to work for longer?This is evident in countries such as Germany and France where workers get generous holiday allowances yet remain highly productive!

Humans are complex beings who make odd decisions, meaning that understanding our own or someone elses behaviors cannot always be explained by logical reasoning – nonetheless change doesn’t need to come from immense thinking, in many cases just changing your perspective can revolutionize insight!

The Power of the Small Details: How Noticeable Changes Can Make a $300 Million Difference in Business


It’s often said that it’s the little things that make a big difference when it comes to business.

Companies might think they need to come up with flashy, extravagant solutions to stand out from the competition, but sometimes even simple changes can be incredibly impactful.

Take the example of Jared Spool and his “$300 million button.” Spool noticed that customers on Best Buy’s website were frustrated about having to create an account in order to buy something.

He recommended changing the ‘Register’ button on the site to a ‘Continue’ button and adding a sentence explaining users can proceed without creating an account.

The result? A massive 45% increase in conversions and $15 million additional revenue per month!

This proves that businesses should indeed sweat the small stuff; even small changes can have dramatic results.

In fact, adjusting details or even just being mindful of them is likely to have multiplying effects throughout your business – so pay attention if you want to reap the rewards!

The Power of Perception: How Small Changes Can Transform the Way We See the World

It is remarkable how seemingly small changes can have a big impact on the way humans think and act.

This is nicely demonstrated by an example, wherein the British chocolate company Cadbury’s received complaints from customers claiming that their beloved Dairy Milk bar wasn’t tasting the same.

Eventually, it was discovered that all they had done was change the shape of the bar, which gave customers the illusion that its taste had changed as well.

Another example can be found in General Mills’ launch of its Betty Crocker do-it-yourself cake mix back in the 1950s.

Confused as to why it wasn’t selling well, a team of psychologists was brought in to investigate and discovered that because baking with the mix was too easy, consumers felt like it was cheating and so weren’t keen on buying it.

After adding a single step – tellingly labelled ‘Just add an egg!’ – sales began to take off again.

From these stories we can conclude that even small details have an influence on human perception – something Psychologists call psychophysics.

Companies need to be wary of this if they want their products to succeed!

The Power of Unconventional Thinking: How Eccentric Ideas Can Lead to Unexpected Success

 Unexpected Success

Lieutenant Gilbert S.

Daniels faced a challenge when he was asked to create a cockpit for high-speed aircrafts by the US military in the 1950s.

The idea was to design it for what they called “the average man”.

But contrary to popular belief at the time, there is no such thing as an average consumer – humans are far too unique and individualized for that!

In fact, Daniels’ research helped prove this point – none of the 4,000 pilots he measured would have been able to comfortably fit into a cockpit designed for an “average” body type, illustrating that metrics and averages used to define these types of customers often fail to capture their true essence.

This anecdote goes to show that instead of designing products around the ten average users, companies would be better off focusing on a single idea crafted specifically for unique and unusual customers- it’s from this pool of outliers where truly inspired ideas come from and are often found appealing by a much broader audience.

Take sandwiches as an example!

An obsessive gambler- Earl of Sandwich- came up with this lunchtime item back in 1762 and against all predictions it gained wide popularity with people coming from all walks of life.

It just goes to show that sometimes we need to take inspiration from even the most unexpected places and people if we want our ideas to resonate with others.

The Power of Absurdity: How Thinking Against the Grain Can Lead to Real Change

When it comes to creating powerful messages that have an impact, they often contain an element of absurdity.

Logic can be useful but when it comes to inspiring people and motivating change, taking risks and being bold is much more effective.

We saw the power of this with Nike’s 2018 “Just Do It” campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.

Though controversial, it was a risk that sent a strong message about what Nike stood for.

The same concept applies to promotional campaigns and ads too.

Take for example the draw held by a client offering free household energy for a year worth in excess of £1,000 – which only got 67,000 entries!

Meanwhile, a competition for a penguin night light worth just £15 drew in 360,000!

No one could have predicted how successful the latter would be – proving that even silly or absurd ideas can yield magical results if you let go of trying to be too logical all the time.

Overall, it’s clear that taking chances and being brave when creating campaigns will result in far more meaningful changes than simply following traditional methods of marketing or advertising.

Life Doesn’t Follow a Linear Path and Neither Do Problem Solving — The Benefit of Looking at Things from Multiple Perspectives

Multiple Perspectives

When it comes to problem-solving, a single theory is not enough.

This idea was demonstrated through the case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, who were accused of murdering Meredith Kercher.

Instead of looking at their situation through multiple lenses, investigators focused on one assumption – that the perpetrator had attempted to make it look like a break-in to cover his or her tracks.

As it turned out, this wasn’t the case, and this error led to the couple being arrested even though they were innocent.

The same concept should be applied in businesses: when trying to solve their customers’ problems, entrepreneurs need to think beyond just one solution and consider how psychological insights can help.

For example, transportation companies could focus on improving commuters’ experience rather than just making their train journey more efficient – an approach that requires far less effort and expense.

Take ride-sharing company Uber as an example: instead of reducing waiting time for customers’ taxi rides (which would have cost millions), they opted for something simpler – introducing an in-app map showing the driver’s approach.

Ultimately, “psychological magic tricks” are better suited than technical solutions when it comes to understanding and solving consumer issues via multi-pronged approaches.

Taking Risks and Testing Unconventional Ideas Can Lead to Lasting Breakthroughs

When it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship, sometimes the most illogical ideas are actually the best ones.

Take, for example, James Dyson’s vacuum cleaner.

Who would ever have thought that creating an expensive, advanced vacuum cleaner that adds a bit of excitement to an otherwise mundane item would be successful? It seemed like it was a preposterous idea at first!

But, as we now know, it turned out to be a huge success.

This same concept can also apply to solving social problems.

A team from author’s advertising agency had the ingenious idea of using “Disney faces” – human faces with large eyes and child-like proportions – to combat crime by painting them on metal shop shutters in order to have a calming effect on people in order to deter potential robbers from targeting those areas.

This unorthodox approach turned out to be extremely effective and cost-efficient!

These examples just goes to show that while pursuing more illogical ideas can be intimidating in terms of risk taking, they can result in success if executed well.

Wrap Up

The final summary of Alchemy is that if you want to solve difficult problems, you should look outside the realm of logical thinking.

Don’t be afraid to entertain illogical ideas- they may surprise you with their creativity and effectiveness.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions- sometimes you can stumble upon intelligent answers this way!

Finally, by breaking free from our rational restraints, we can access creative solutions that weren’t visible before.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.