Alchemy Book Summary - Alchemy Book explained in key points
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Alchemy summary

Rory Sutherland

The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life

4.5 (192 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

Alchemy by Rory Sutherland is a must-read for marketers and decision-makers. Learn how to apply behavioral economics to create innovative solutions that meet consumer needs and wants.

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    Human behavior can’t always be explained by logic.

    In many aspects of life, logical thinking is essential. Raw reason and rationale have produced revolutionary scientific discoveries and built the infrastructure that our countries depend upon. But there are some instances where logic simply doesn’t apply, especially when it comes to human behavior. 

    People are complex, irrational beings who make peculiar decisions and often don’t act in the way we expect them to. Look at our attitudes toward brands, for example – we prize some more highly than others even when the products have the same quality or function. 

    Consider toothpaste as a case in point. Consumers prefer to brush their teeth with stripy toothpaste, even though there’s no clear advantage to using this type over other, non-stripy toothpastes. Why? Clever design. 

    The various lines of color in stripy toothpaste signal to us that we’re getting multiple benefits – teeth-whitening, breath-freshening, and bacteria-fighting – all in one formula. Visually, it gives the illusion that stripy toothpaste is more effective. Our preference for it is, ultimately, irrational – a prime example of why our decisions and behavior are hard to predict. 

    That’s why assumptions about people which are ostensibly based on logic – like those in economic models or case studies performed by businesses – so often fail. 

    For example, many businesses in the United States think that productivity is related to the number of hours employees work. In their minds, this means that employees who have more vacation time must be less effective. As the author explains, businesses often consider humans to be like machines, and like machines, they can get rusty and less efficient when left idle for too long. 

    But what if employees actually need more leisure time to do their jobs optimally? After all, happier, more rested employees will presumably want to continue working even later in life. And as far as productivity goes, just look at businesses in Europe: in Germany, employees get six weeks of paid leave a year and the economy is thriving; French workers get a generous holiday allowance and remain highly productive.

    For businesses, asking employees to work longer seems like common sense. But, if they were to shelve their assumptions and think outside the box they could make room for startling insights.

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    What is Alchemy about?

    Alchemy (2018) makes a case for irrational thinking in a world enraptured by logic. Drawing on his first-hand knowledge of the advertising industry and insights from behavioral psychology, Rory Sutherland argues that the world is far too complex to be viewed through a single lens. To solve everyday problems, we must move past superficial analysis and open ourselves up to even the most seemingly nonsensical ideas – which often turn out to be very powerful. Only then can we be true alchemists. 

    Alchemy Review

    Alchemy (2019) by Rory Sutherland offers a captivating exploration of the hidden forces that shape our decisions and behaviors. Here's why this book is definitely worth a read:

    • With fascinating insights and thought-provoking examples, it challenges conventional thinking and encourages readers to embrace unconventional ideas for problem-solving.
    • By exploring the power of perception and psychology, it reveals how small tweaks and shifts in perspective can have a profound impact on our lives and work.
    • Through witty anecdotes and engaging storytelling, the book manages to present complex concepts in a relatable and entertaining manner, making it thoroughly interesting and definitely not boring.

    Best quote from Alchemy

    Most valuable discoveries dont make sense at first; if they did, somebody would have discovered them already.

    —Rory Sutherland
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    Who should read Alchemy?

    • Advertisers and brand managers seeking to understand their customers better
    • Budding innovators and business strategists looking for new ways to hatch ideas
    • Creators stuck in logic overload

    About the Author

    Rory Sutherland is best known as vice chairman of award-winning advertising agency Ogilvy, where he has worked since 1988. In addition to being one of the most influential advertising professionals in the world today, Sutherland has published a book called The Wiki Man (2011) and has spoken at Ted Global on many occasions. He is now a regular writer for the magazines, the Spectator, Market Leader, and Impact

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    Alchemy FAQs 

    What is the main message of Alchemy?

    The main message of Alchemy is that small changes to our thinking and behavior can lead to big results.

    How long does it take to read Alchemy?

    The estimated reading time for Alchemy is several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Alchemy a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Alchemy is worth reading as it offers valuable insights and practical strategies for improving decision-making and solving problems.

    Who is the author of Alchemy?

    The author of Alchemy is Rory Sutherland.

    What to read after Alchemy?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Alchemy, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Buyology by Martin Lindstrom
    • Cashvertising by Drew Eric Whitman
    • The Science of Why by David Forbes
    • The Science of Selling by David Hoffeld
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by Olivia Telford
    • 7 Strategies for Wealth & Happiness by Jim Rohn
    • Purple Cow by Seth Godin
    • Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller
    • Zero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters