• Alchemy

  • The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life
  • By: Rory Sutherland
  • Narrated by: Rory Sutherland
  • Length: 9 hrs and 38 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (1,350 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

HOW DOES MAGIC HAPPEN? The Ogilvy advertising legend—“one of the leading minds in the world of branding” (NPR)—explores the art and science of conjuring irresistible products and ideas.

"A breakthrough book. Wonderfully applicable to about everything in life." —Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan

“Veins of wisdom emerge regularly and brilliantly from these pages. Don't miss this book.”  —Robert B. Cialdini, author of Influence

Why is Red Bull so popular, though everyone—everyone!—hates the taste? Humans are, in a word, irrational, basing decisions as much on subtle external signals (that little blue can) as on objective qualities (flavor, price, quality). The surrounding world, meanwhile, is irreducibly complex and random. This means future success can’t be projected on any accounting spreadsheet. To strike gold, you must master the dark art and curious science of conjuring irresistible ideas: alchemy.

Based on thirty years of field work inside the largest experiment in human behavior ever conceived—the forever-unfolding pageant of consumer capitalism—Alchemy, the revolutionary book by Ogilvy advertising legend Rory Sutherland, whose TED talks have been viewed nearly seven million times, decodes human behavior, blending leading-edge scientific research, absurdly entertaining storytelling, deep psychological insight, and practical case studies from his storied career working on campaigns for AmEx, Microsoft, and others.

Heralded as “one of the leading minds in the world of branding” by NPR, Sutherland is a unique thought leader, as comfortable exchanging ideas with Nobel Prize winners Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler (both interviewed in this audio) as he is crafting the next product launch. His unconventional and relentlessly curious approach has led him to discover that the most compelling secrets to human decision-making can be found in surprising places:

What can honey bees teach us about creating a sustainable business?

How could budget airlines show us how to market a healthcare system?

Why is it better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong?

What might soccer penalty kicks teach us about the dangers of risk-aversion?

Better “branding,” Sutherland reveals, can also be employed not just to sell products, but to promote a variety of social aims, like getting people to pay taxes, improving public health outcomes, or encouraging more women to pursue careers in tech.

Equally startling and profound, Sutherland’s journey through the strange world of decision making is filled with astonishing lessons for all aspects of life and business.

©2019 Rory Sutherland (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

One of the best books I’ve read

Who will like this book
* Anyone who makes any kinds of product — software products, physical products, experiences, processes, workplaces, cultures, etc
* Any entrepreneur seeking to create valuable businesses
* Anyone who wants to understand what is True in the world
* Any Charlie Munger fans
* Any Slate Star Codex fans
* If people would describe you as highly rational, highly logical, etc, you’ll like this book
* Anyone seeking ways to find undervalued ideas will like this book
* Anyone who wants to maximize people’s subjective well-being

The benefits you’ll get from this book
* You’ll be able to see the world, and in particular people, more accurately
* You’ll be able to make more valuable, more loved products (software product, advertising as a product, process as a product, etc) and experiences
* It makes the valuable task of independent thinking slightly easier

Conclusion
* This book is a critical reminder that the world isn’t what it seems to be.
* It feels like a lesson, or a reminder, about what’s true in the world. A reminder that many of the beliefs you’ve been holding in your brain aren’t accurate, and therefore are leading you to misperceive the world. And it’s much easier to create value and valuable things if you accurately perceive the world!
* I’ve read somewhere between 500 and 1000 non-fiction books, and Alchemy is in my top 10 all-time.

After you read it
* If you like this book, other books that you’ll like include: “Elephant in the Brain” by Simler/Hanson and any books by Geoffrey Miller on signaling and the hidden reasons we do things, “The Righteous Mind” by Haidt on understanding the truth behind people’s stated beliefs and reasoning, “Talking to Humans” on understanding the things we really want rather than the things we say we want, “The Secret of Our Success” on the ways things that seem irrational can be highly valuable.

P.S. It’s great as an audiobook — the author reads it himself, and he has a very relaxed and conversational style reading of it. I normally like audiobooks, and this style was even easier and more enjoyable to listen to than most audiobooks, so I hope other audiobook producers copy this style!

67 people found this helpful

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Confirms Marketing is for Snake oil salesmen

I really wanted to like this book. For me, the content comes through as more lead than gold. The book is choppy and fragmented. Rory interjects tons of historic trivia and hopes it will elevate his ideas. It does not. I have heard this referred to as hiding low value ideas in high value language.

His main thesis is that solving business problems requires more creative than logical ideas. I agree. However, not sure that’s a new or cutting edge idea today as it was 20 years ago. Companies are able to gather their own customer data, which leads to their own insights, effectively cutting out people like Rory. Naturally, he wrote a book to try to defend his existence and attack the technology that is likely to replace him. Not sure he succeeded. The most interesting details are actually from someone else, the famous economist Daniel Kahneman, who has written his own books, which I have already read. He is much better at explaining his own ideas than Rory.

That being said, I do think others should still read it and reach their own conclusions.

13 people found this helpful

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It is okay

Okay audiobook. While author makes some excellent points, but at the same time those points are counter arguments that are completely looked over. Moreover, the entire book felt like a point of view of an elite, while generally the customer base for majority of products are not elites.

10 people found this helpful

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True Alchemy for Management Consulting

Rory Sutherland has written a master class in critical thinking for the hardcore business leaders of the day. Too often we allow the logic side of Psycho-Logic to dominate all that we do. "Focus on the facts! Don't be so emotional..."

Mr. Sutherland challenges assumptions around Management belief systems that blind us from the realities of why people actually make purchase decisions. Hint: It's not our unbelievable systems... (i.e. supply chains, financial models, etc..) - the Logic side. Don't misunderstand that these things have tremendous value, but rather that we are collectively missing massive opportunities to connect "magically" with our clients through the Psycho side of Psych-Logic.

If you're in management consulting like myself, you will never speak to your clients in the same way again. Thank you Rory!

Sincerely,
Jerry

Chief Alchemist for Digital Product Design Firm

10 people found this helpful

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Bizarre obsession with evolution

This is a good book. Or, it would've been if it weren't for the author's baffling insistence on mentioning the theory of evolution at every turn. Every possible human emotion, reaction and situation is stretched to absurd levels in order to fit: why do people respond to subconscious cues? Well it's because evolution this. Why is it wrong for companies to favor short-term gain over long-term prosperity? Cuz evolution that. Why do the author's teen daughters take too much time to get ready when they go out? Evolution (no joke, he actually said this).

He doesn't quote actual clinical psychologists, he rather quotes evolutionary "psychologists" and he makes sure to mention they are EVOLUTIONARY ones every single time.

It's almost comical how committed he is to this strange approach. this weird fixation hurt the book and made it seem like he's trying to turn others into being rigidly dogmatic preachers for this theory. "Eat your broccoli or you will really mess us up on the evolutionary timeline, Timmy."

Terrible style. Just stick to what the book is about, it's not that hard.

9 people found this helpful

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Worthwhile Read

Rory Sutherland doesn't always look at things and ideas like many people would and he explains why we shouldn't either. If you are a behavior economist (like me) you will love this book. Rory reads it himself and that might be the only fault and it is slight, sometimes it seems like he is reading a speech. However this is almost always an entertaining book that makes one think.

7 people found this helpful

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My new favorite book!

I am obsessed with this book and how it challenges me to see creative solutions to problems. I could not have read it during a better time (in quarantine). I have mentally reframed this pandemic as a chance to enjoy being valuable and loved without the American pressure to work to prove I matter! This book is a must read if you want to get a jump start on improving how to see your life for how amazing it is!

3 people found this helpful

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Not great

It is amazing how someone can come up with so many arguments based on false premises and still manage to pull out a coherent conclusion. The delivery is entertaining, as are the examples that work, mainly those related to his direct experience with clients. The list of examples that are based on ignorance of the subject or just subjective opinion presented as fact is long. His presentation is entertaining. For that, it gets a star.

3 people found this helpful

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Something to think about

This book really gives you a lot to think about. It's not the conventional marketing book. If you march to the beat of your own drum this book will explain why that's not a bad idea, although not necessarily good.

2 people found this helpful

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Factual mistakes which sometimes are dangerous

The book makes some bold statements which we should believe in. At the same time, it provides as examples clearly wrong facts. This greatly undermines the credibility and raises question of whether the rest of the facts are accurate.

For example, an economist would not be surprised at all that rising price could lead to greater profits, it is called price elasticity

Another, a rather dangerous example, is the statement that homeopathy works. There are tons of clinical research on this matter which clearly shows that it does not.

I have stopped listening to this book after few hours. Would not recommend it. Is absolutely not worth your time and money.

2 people found this helpful

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