Alchemy: The Surprising Power Of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense

Alchemy by Rory Sutherland - Ogilvy Vice Chairman - Reagan Pollack

Alchemy: The Surprising Power Of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense

Ad: One of my favorite past times is reading books on business, marketing and behavioral economics. I’ve recently come across a book over the holiday break that hit the nail on the head in today’s over saturated product world.
Alchemy, by Rory Sutherland,, is not just a fun read (it literally had me laughing out loud with a smile ear to ear on my face many times), but also provides unique insights into the ‘illogical side’ of marketing campaigns and products that work out in the real world, yet on paper, seem like total disasters.
Sutherland, a well respected advertising titan and Vice Chairman at the leading agency Ogilvy, knows more than a thing or two on how to make brands win on a worldwide level.
al·che·my: a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.
“How does magic happen?
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.”
Famed Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz at Andreessen Horowitz, in his most recent fireside chat that I attended last month, talked about how he’s always on the hunt for “good ideas that seem like really bad ideas”.
The “good ideas”, Horowitz warns, often lead to sub optimal startup outcomes.
Likewise, Alchemy by Sutherland, breaks this concept down further.
“Not everything that makes sense works, and not everything that works makes sense.”
So how do we, as Startup Founders, CEOs, Product Managers, and Marketing Directors, get out of our comfort zone and get accustomed to spotting bad ideas that break out into incredibly successful ones?
Sutherland shows us the way:
“Plans such as this only emerge when people ask a dumb question with an open mind. The reason we do not ask basic questions [when problem solving, designing a product, building a company] is because, once our brain provides a logical answer, we stop looking for better ones; with a little alchemy, better answers can be found.”
And once you’ve asked the dumb, rudimentary questions that others on your team are simply unwilling to ask out loud (for fear of looking misinformed, non technical, or flat out stupid), “We should test counterintuitive things – because no one else will”.
Sutherland suggests we should follow the late words from tech icon and entrepreneur Steve Jobs, to “stay hungry, stay foolish”.
If you’re questioning if your idea is a good one, if your leading a team and all of the products that you come up with look like a mild iteration of the last one (version 1.1), or even if you’re wondering how to get better at spotting the illogical ideas in a world of homogenous, over-logical group-think, grab a copy of Alchemy, and thank me later. 

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