The trouble with market research is that people don’t think what they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.”  

– Rory Sutherland, Author 


Book Data

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Print Length: 387 pages 

Best Sellers Rank:

#11 in Market Research Business (Amazon Books) 

 #31 in Consumer Behavior (Amazon)  

 #101 in Business Decision Making (Amazon Books)  

The Topic

In “Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life,” Rory Sutherland argues that logic and data aren’t always the best guides for decision-making. Through a mix of psychology, behavioral economics, and wit, Sutherland advocates for the power of unconventional thinking to solve problems and create value.

The book explores of the irrational, unconventional, and often counter-intuitive aspects of decision-making in business, marketing, and everyday life. Sutherland challenges the conventional wisdom that decisions should be purely data-driven and logical.

Instead, he makes the case for the role of psychology, human behavior, and creative thinking in solving problems and finding success. Sutherland argues that understanding the less rational aspects of human behavior can lead to “alchemy,” or the magical transformation of problems into opportunities and value.

The Ideal Reader

Rory Sutherland wrote “Alchemy” primarily for professionals in the fields of marketing, advertising, business, and organizational leadership. However, the book also appeals to a broader audience interested in psychology, behavioral economics, and decision-making. It is designed to provide actionable insights for those looking to understand the less rational aspects of human behavior and to leverage this understanding for problem-solving, product design, and brand building.

For anyone interested in the complexities of human choices and how they can be influenced or harnessed, “Alchemy” offers a treasure trove of insights.

Marketing Professionals: Those in marketing can benefit from the book’s insights into consumer behavior, especially the irrational elements that traditional marketing models often overlook. Understanding these can lead to more effective and creative marketing strategies.

Business Leaders: CEOs and other organizational leaders will find value in the book’s unconventional wisdom, which can help in problem-solving, strategy development, and fostering a culture of innovation.

Behavioral Economists: Those studying or working in behavioral economics can gain from the real-world applications of theories related to human decision-making.

Product Designers: Understanding the less-than-logical aspects of consumer preference can help designers create products that not only meet functional needs but also satisfy deeper, often unarticulated, desires.

Startup Founders: Entrepreneurs often have to make decisions based on incomplete information and gut instinct. “Alchemy” provides a framework for making such decisions in a more informed manner.

Advertising Executives: Since the book delves into how unconventional thinking can create compelling narratives and campaigns, advertising professionals can find it enlightening for their work.

General Public: Any individual interested in psychology, decision-making, or the nuances of human behavior would find “Alchemy” captivating. It’s written in an accessible way that doesn’t require specialized knowledge.

Academics and Students: Those in academic fields related to business, psychology, and economics might find the book useful for its practical applications of theoretical concepts.

The Promise

Rory Sutherland’s implicit promise to the readers of “Alchemy” is to offer a new lens through which to view problems, opportunities, and decision-making, both in business and in everyday life.

Through a combination of psychology, behavioral economics, and real-world examples, Sutherland aims to show that going against conventional, data-driven wisdom can often lead to more innovative and effective solutions. In essence, the author promises to equip the reader with the tools to create their own “alchemy” by embracing the power of unconventional thinking.

The Title

The title “Alchemy” immediately evokes a sense of magic, transformation, and the turning of base elements into something valuable—much like the historical goal of alchemists to turn lead into gold. This captures the book’s central theme of achieving extraordinary outcomes through unconventional thinking.

The subtitle, “The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life,” expands on this by indicating that the book is a blend of art and science. It adds specificity by mentioning the contexts where this ‘alchemy’ can be applied: brands, business, and life in general.

Together, the title and subtitle create an intriguing juxtaposition between the mystical (“Alchemy,” “Dark Art,” “Magic”) and the rational (“Curious Science,” “Brands,” “Business”). This mirrors the book’s content, which argues for the value of blending rational, data-driven approaches with more intuitive, creative thinking.

By combining elements of mystery, transformation, and practical application, the title and subtitle effectively encapsulate the book’s promise to offer a unique perspective on problem-solving and decision-making. It intrigues both the logically-minded and those interested in the unquantifiable aspects of human behavior, attracting a wide range of readers.

The Methodology

In “Alchemy,” Rory Sutherland doesn’t necessarily present a strict, formal methodology for achieving the “magic” he discusses. Instead, the book is more of an exploration of various psychological principles, behavioral economics theories, and real-world examples to advocate for unconventional thinking in problem-solving and decision-making. The approach is multidisciplinary, drawing from various fields of study to make its case.

Sutherland often delves into case studies, historical events, and personal anecdotes to illustrate his points. He demonstrates how traditional, rational methods of understanding problems or opportunities—often reliant on quantitative data and established best practices—can sometimes be limiting. He advocates for the inclusion of more subjective, psychological factors into decision-making processes, even if these factors appear irrational or counter-intuitive at first glance.

So, while there isn’t a step-by-step methodology outlined, the book does offer a conceptual framework for thinking differently about problems and opportunities in business and life. It encourages readers to question established norms and to be open to insights from a range of disciplines, emphasizing that ‘alchemy’ often occurs at the intersection of diverse fields and perspectives.

The Structure


Overview of the central theme: the need for unconventional thinking in business and everyday life.

The Limits of Logic

Discussion of the shortcomings of purely logical, data-driven approaches to problem-solving and decision-making.

The Psychology of Decision-Making

Exploration of behavioral economics and psychology principles that influence how people make choices.

Real-World Examples and Case Studies

A variety of anecdotes, historical examples, and modern case studies that demonstrate the power of unconventional thinking.

The Role of Perception

Examination of how human perception can be manipulated or influenced to achieve desired outcomes.

Branding and Marketing

Application of the book’s principles to the fields of branding and marketing, including real-world success stories.

Organizational Decision-Making

Discussion of how companies can benefit from incorporating more unconventional, human-centered decision-making.

The Importance of Context

Exploration of how the context in which choices are presented can dramatically affect outcomes.

Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Further examples and arguments against blindly following established best practices in various fields.


Summation of the book’s key points and a call to action for readers to apply these principles in their own lives and professions.


Chapter Structure

 Introduction to the Central Theme: A brief overview explaining the concept of “alchemy” in the context of decision-making, problem-solving, and human behavior.

Importance of the Subject Matter: Discussion on why unconventional thinking is crucial in various aspects of life, especially in business and marketing.

The Author’s Perspective: Introduction to Rory Sutherland’s background, experience, and viewpoint on the subject, establishing his authority on the topic.

A Glimpse into the Book’s Content: Briefly outlining what topics and case studies the book will delve into.

The Relevance to Various Audiences: Explanation of why the book would be valuable to different types of readers— from business professionals to the general public.

What to Expect: A short overview of what the reader can hope to gain or learn from reading the book, setting expectations.

The purpose of the first chapter in any book is generally to draw readers in and give them enough context and intrigue to commit to reading the rest of the book. 

What Made Alchemy a Best Seller?

Expertise of the Author: Rory Sutherland is a prominent figure in advertising and behavioral science. His authority on the subject lends credibility to the book.

Timeliness: The book captures the zeitgeist of a period where data-driven decisions are becoming increasingly prevalent, offering a fresh perspective on why irrationality should also be considered.

Broad Appeal: While the book is especially relevant for professionals in marketing, advertising, and business leadership, its exploration of human behavior and psychology has a broader appeal.

Actionable Insights: The book provides practical advice and real-world examples, making it not just a theoretical work but a guide for applying unconventional wisdom.

Engaging Writing Style: Sutherland’s wit and engaging writing make complex topics accessible, making the book a compelling read.

Media Coverage and Reviews: Favorable reviews from reputable sources and media coverage amplified the book’s visibility and credibility.

Recommendations and Endorsements: Positive endorsements from notable figures in relevant industries added further authority and drew in a larger readership.

Word of Mouth: Satisfied readers are likely to recommend the book, and word-of-mouth recommendations significantly contributed to its popularity.

Versatility: The book’s blend of psychology, economics, and business insights also makes it a popular choice for academic courses and professional training programs, expanding its reach.

Global Relevance: The principles discussed have universal applicability, making it popular not just in one geographic location but globally.

Presentation and Packaging: A compelling title and cover design also contribute to its marketability and shelf appeal.

Each of these factors contributed to creating a buzz around the book, helping it to achieve bestseller status.

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