20,000×1 != 1×20,000

Alchemy is about taking existing or marginal resources and deploying them for non-linear effect. Sometimes small changes go boom.

One way to see this is in the expression 20,000×1 != 1×20,000. Rory Sutherland introduced this idea through travel. A new rail line, Sutherland said, that saves many people a few minutes is worth less than a change that saves a few people many minutes.

Another example Rory gave was airline lounges. A sole traveler visiting a lounge many times a year gets a small benefit whereas that traveler with their family twice a year gets a huge benefit. In each case the same number of scones are consumed, but the effect to the consumer is different.

A real life example is the Credit Karma Save program.

“One of the things we noticed was that there’s strong deposit behavior around paydays and we wondered if there was a way to do nudging around paydays. So we created a savings boost program where just by depositing a dollar that month you’re eligible to win twenty thousand dollars that month.” – Kyle Thibaut, The Science of Change, October 2021

That’s not all. Credit Karma also offers Instant Karma, a cash reimbursement program for their debit card users. Every transaction is a chance to win that amount back.

I’d wager that the Credit Karma accounting for “customer reward” or “interest paid” or such, is similar in scope to the competition – but having a few large chunks rather than many small ones is a golden idea.


It’s always nice to validate an idea with an “out of sample test”. Does this work elsewhere? Marc Andreessen riffed on the idea that there are only bonds and call options.

March 28, 2022 update. Previously this idea was in the Landslide post which covered: sun and skin damage, landslide prevention, and Marc Andreessen on the culture of work.

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