Alchemy is a bit of a scary and mysterious word.
Its origin dates back to the first few centuries of the current era. Alchemists’ goal was to transform base metals such as lead into noble metals such as gold.
It was about making something from, relatively, nothing. Or, to better put it in words, something valuable from something of low value.
Most of us are probably familiar with The Philosopher’s Stone (no, I’m not talking about Harry Potter 🧙♂️). It is a legendary substance, the end goal of alchemy, that was meant to turn base metals into gold or silver.
And although the Philosopher’s Stone never came to life, the modern-day alchemy exists and can be used to make our life better.
We can’t, literally, change one thing into another without changing its state or form.
We can change how we FEEL about something without changing its state or form.
Here come human perception and psychology.
You see, we don’t perceive things as they are. It’s all relative.
A couple of years ago I read a study (sorry for no link, running late today) about how people perceive their salary.
It turns out that because of the comparison factor most people would like to earn less (numerically) given that they would earn more (relatively).
How does it work?
So, most people would prefer to make $60,000 a year given that their friends, peers, and family made >$60k compared to them making, let’s say $100,000 a year if their social circle would make, e.g. $120,000.
Of course, it seems irrational but the truth is rational is also relative.
$100,000 > $60,000. Clear.
But numbers without context don’t exist in real life. They only do in isolated systems.
And here is one example of how 21st-century alchemy could work.
It’s common fact that people’s level of happiness is tied to how much they make a year but only to a certain point. Beyond certain level, the more money we make doesn’t mean we’ll be happier.
So to make yourself happier you could just find a different point of comparison. You’ll FEEL like you’re making more even though you’ll keep on earning the same sum.
Even better if you stopped comparing yourself to others. Then you could be happier without changing the sum of money you earn and without changing your social circle.
We’re not changing anything - physically - we’re only changing the perspective and thus perception.
The master of 21st-century alchemy is Rory Sutherland. Author of such gems as (both link aff):
I highly recommend each of these books, as well as, all of Rory’s TED talks.
Rory is a fellow marketer who best describes why it’s more important to make people feel a certain way than to “have” certain things.
One example of such Alchemy is a case of London Underground.
The city went on a quest to make the everyday commute better.
One of the most obvious (and probably rational) things to do would be to quicken each of the rides and thus make them more frequent.
Of course, it’d require loads of money, time spent on rebuilding the tunnels and rails, and maybe even buying new carriages.
But, the better answer might be to look into what’s the biggest hurdle of the average commuter. And please, keep in mind the story dates a couple of years back in time.
Finally, they installed screens on every stop/station that display time left for arrival.
When you think about it the worst feeling linked to everyday commute is the unawareness generated by the wait time.
You can look up the timetable but you never know if the tram is - actually - on its way. With the screens, it’s known how much time is left so you know whether it’s worth spending this time reading, standing, sitting, or maybe even going outside.
Nowadays these screens are something obvious and are present not only in London but even in small cities in Europe.
You see, these screens didn’t change the time you have to wait for a ride.
They didn’t speed up the process nor they changed anything physically. But they do change how you feel about the ride.
You might be familiar with a similar solution used on roads.
I’m talking about timers installed on traffic lights that tell you how much it’s left until the light turns green.
It’s the most annoying thing not to know how long you have to wait for the light to turn green. If you know it’s a minute or more you may even reach for your phone and write a message or change a song. This solution makes it relatively safe.
You’re no more complaining how long it’ll take until you can drive but the time you have to wait is THE SAME.
Next time you face the problem or have to solve some problems of others think about how you can change yours/their perception and change the framing of the problem.
Because of how our brain works the problem might turn into a blessing in a matter of minutes.
Also, alchemy lets you save money, time, and work that you’d normally have to spend on big-caliber projects.
It turns out that you can change lead into gold and you don’t need that much to do it.
All it takes is to understand why the problem is perceived as the problem and reverse engineer it.