Book Review: Alchemy by Rory Sutherland

Alchemy by Rory Sutherland

Book Review

'Alchemy' by Rory Sutherland

Alchemy by Rory Sutherland

After the success of our first-ever book club, we have now held our second book club and this week Tony explores Rory Sutherland's eagerly awaited " Alchemy - "The Surprising Power of Ideas that don't make sense".

Our Rating

"A Great Read"

5 Star Review Vision One

The audience for this book is most likely to be marketers, insight professionals and in particular, those involved in branding and advertising. I think it’s also a great book for business leaders as it's an important reminder of the fact that rational thinking isn’t always the best solution!  (If you would like to be less rational and more brilliant why not listen to this podcast by Rory Sutherland).

About Rory Sutherland

Rory Sutherland is an advertising legend whose TED Talks have been viewed by millions. In his first, and somewhat belated book, he successfully blends his experiences and insights, cutting-edge behavioural science and a touch of magic on his mission to turn us all into alchemists.

"A flower is a weed with an Advertising Budget"

" Solving problems using logic is like playing golf with only one club"

Outline of the book

Alchemy by Rory Sutherland is a must read for business owners, marketers and research & insight specialists. In particular, those who rely heavily on the assumption that we make logical decisions based on evidence and deductive thinking. Across many, if not all the areas of our lives, reason only plays a small part of our decision making. Instead we are driven by unconscious desires, which is why placebos are so powerful even if they have no logic.

We are drawn to the beautiful, the powerful, the extravagant and the absurd. So if you want to truly influence people's choices, then you have to bypass reason and tap into their emotions. By the time you have read this book (which you must), I hope your mind will be a convert to the importance of alchemy and magic!

Key points

“The opposite of a good idea can be another good idea”

The quote above is one of my favourite from the book. It stems from the notion that conventional logic loves the idea of a single answer. However, when dealing with people research clearly shows this is never the case and that if you're looking to disrupt and find a new opportunity then you need to look at it differently... and sometimes turn everything on its head!

As the author highlights, Hoovers are an excellent example. Previously they were a grudge purchase and only necessary purchase if your old one broke. It was a purely utilitarian item. On this basis, logically speaking, it made no sense to invent a cool looking and very expensive hoover as there was no demand for it. But Dyson added excitement to the transaction of a boring household item, and with that created some magic through innovation that led to one of the twentieth century’s most successful products.

"The problem with logic is it kills off magic"

In the book, Rory also claims that Niels Bohr (a Danish physicist, philosopher and Nobel Laureate) apparently once told Einstein, "No, no, you are not thinking; you are merely being logical". Once you’ve devised what seems like a logical schema for problem solving, you’ve created something which is based on very simple physics and maths. Consequently, something which will always give you a single right answer. But where logic exists, magic cannot!

If you want to improve someone’s experience, logic dictates that you improve the item or service itself, rather than the perception of it. But people don’t perceive the world objectively. Assuming that they do, means you will be confined to improving your product exclusively by doing objective things rather altering and enhancing perceptions.


Rory Sutherland's Alchemy is a really enjoyable read which strongly resonates with my own beliefs and way of thinking. But obviously far more eloquently! If it had a weakness, then it’s not always clear how to implement the important ideas raised. However, it highlights some important ideas that every business and marketing professional should be aware of. Thanks Rory - and really looking forward to your next expose!

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