42 of Rory Sutherland’s Best Quotes

42 of Rory Sutherland’s Best Quotes

As if it isn’t already rather obvious, we’re massive fans of Rory Sutherland, and it’s why we have made four Behavioural Science courses with him!

He has an uncanny ability to make anything he’s talking about not only interesting but often very amusing.

You can chat with Rory for hours and never get bored, and you’ll always come away with a surprising nugget of information you can impress your friends or colleagues with.

As Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy UK, Rory works with some of the world’s biggest brands, helping them solve problems.

And with over 30 years of industry experience, he knows the power of advertising and the common mistakes people make when communicating their messages effectively.

As a byproduct of all this experience, he also understands how the mind really works and that complex problems are unlikely to be solved by brute-force logic.

If anyone has a good argument for why rational thought is overrated, it’s Rory - he is the champion of solving problems by thinking counterintuitively.

More than most, he understands that decision-making is mostly emotionally led, and we then post-rationalise.

In celebration of his unique take on the world, we’ve gathered 42 of his best quotes on everything from advertising to life advice in the hope you can learn from his wisdom.

(Apart from his approach to time management, perhaps 😉)

Rory on Advertising:

1. “A flower is a weed with an advertising budget.”

2. “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.”

3. “Once you have a very, very large budget, you actually look for expensive things to spend it on.”

4. “I think if you set out to build a great business, you’ll stand a fair chance of building a great brand. I am not equally confident that someone aspiring to build a great brand will build a great business.”

Rory on Data:

5. “It’s important to remember that big data all comes from the same place – the past. A new campaigning style, a single rogue variable or a ‘black swan event can throw the most perfectly calibrated model into chaos.”

6. “The number of people who think they understand statistics dangerously dwarfs those who actually do, and maths can cause fundamental problems when badly used.”

7. “Evolved human instinct may be much better at statistics than modern economists.”

8. “Metrics, and especially averages, encourage you to focus on the middle of a market, but innovation happens at the extremes.”

9. “What gets mismeasured gets mismanaged.”

Rory on Decision Making:

10. “Although you may think that people instinctively want to make the best possible decision, there is a stronger force that animates business decision-making: the desire not to get blamed or fired.”

11. “And in reality ‘context’ is often the most important thing in determining how people think, behave and act.”

12. “Our conscious mind tries hard to preserve the illusion that it deliberately chose every action you have ever taken; in reality, in many of these decisions it was a bystander at best, and much of the time it did not even notice the decision being made.”

Rory on Human Behaviour and Logic:

13. “The human mind does not run on logic any more than a horse runs on petrol.”

14. “Not everything that makes sense works, and not everything that works makes sense.”

15. “Alongside the inarguably valuable products of science and logic, there are also hundreds of seemingly irrational solutions to human problems just waiting to be discovered, if only we dare to abandon standard-issue, naïve logic in the search for answers.”

16. “If we allow the world to be run by logical people, we will only discover logical things.”

17. “In theory, you can’t be too logical, but in practice, you can.”

18. “You are not thinking; you are merely being logical.”

19. “It is much easier to be fired for being illogical than it is for being unimaginative. The fatal issue is that logic always gets you to exactly the same place as your competitors.”

Rory on Ideas:

20. "The best ideas do not emerge within disciplines, they emerge at the intersections between them."

21. "There are far more good ideas out there that we can post-rationalize than there are good ideas that we can pre-rationalize."

22. “Google understood that if you're just a search engine, people assume you're a very, very good search engine.”

23. “While in physics the opposite of a good idea is generally a bad idea, in psychology the opposite of a good idea can be a very good idea indeed: both opposites often work.”

24. “Remember, if you never do anything differently, you’ll reduce your chances of enjoying lucky accidents.”

25. “To reach intelligent answers, you often need to ask really dumb questions.”

26. “All too often, what matters is not whether an idea is true or effective, but whether it fits with the preconceptions of a dominant cabal.”

Rory on Life:

27. “The advice I would give to anybody is to be good at two things, not one, know about two things rather than one, and if possible make the two things overlap a bit.”

28. “The circumstances of our lives actually matter less to our happiness than the sense of control we feel over our lives.”

29. “Reality isn't a particularly good guide to human happiness.”

30. “Trust grows at the speed of a coconut tree and falls at the speed of a coconut.”

31. “A rich man is anyone who earns more than his wife’s sister’s husband.”

32. “Ask people about their mobile phone, their Sky+, their broadband connection … goods which would have seemed miraculous to our grandparents … and within a minute or so you’ll be listening to morose complaints about the monthly bill.”

Rory on Perception:

33. “We don’t value things; we value their meaning. What they are is determined by the laws of physics, but what they mean is determined by the laws of psychology.”

34. “A £30 watch will answer your timekeeping needs perfectly — anything else is simply jewellery for men, and mostly of quite spectacular hideousness.”

Rory on Problem-Solving:

35. “Solving problems using rationality is like playing golf with only one club.”

36. “If you want to solve the problem, you have to understand ‘the real why’.”

37. “Engineers, medical people, scientific people, have an obsession with solving the problems of reality, when actually … once you reach a basic level of wealth in society, most problems are actually problems of perception.”

Rory on Rationality:

38. “A rational leader suggests changing course to avoid a storm. An irrational one can change the weather.”

39. “No living creature can evolve and survive in the real world by processing information in an objective, measured and proportionate manner.”

40. “It is perfectly possible to be both rational and wrong.”

41. “Never call a behaviour irrational until you really know what the person is trying to do.”

Rory on Time Management:

42. “I was once booked on a time management course and got the date wrong.”

Want more Rory in your life?

You can fill your boots with more of his wisdom by enrolling in his Ogilvy certified courses on Behavioural Economics and Applied Behavioural Science.

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