I hadn't read The Alchemist before cause I was kind of put off by all the hype. Especially I was put off by all the "this changed my life" kind of talks about the book. Sounded like a cult. The quote by Madonna on some of the covers of the Finnish translation didn't help much.
On the other hand I got more and more curious. So many so different sort of people were talking about the book and citing it. Even some of those I had never seen as cult and hype loving types. Besides the whole thing about Paulo Coelho's enthusiasm for social media has made him interesting to me.
Yesterday I finally read this story about Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd. Now I understand why the book is so successful. There are lessons to learn from it if you want to create success.
1. Make it easy
Easy is often seen as cheap and half baked. It's not. Creating something easy is most likely more difficult than creating something difficult. That's why there are so many mobile phones which are hard and in times impossible to use (I look at you, Nokia folks).
In literature easy is a bad word. It's because many of the books that are seen as The Great Literature are pretty difficult and slow to read. But if a book is likely to be thrown away after a few chapters, doesn't it make it a bad book? Aren't books meant to be read?
Coelho's writing is easy to read. The book is very symbolic, yet not too symbolic to understand what it symbolizes. Ease or difficulty of reading a book is a subject story itself points out many times. I read this one in a little over 2 hours (having a couple of breaks, for instance making some tea).
2. Offer something beautiful
As Santiago points it out everyone are fascinated by beauty. It's something we humans are drawn to.
Aesthetics is part of the story behind Apple's success. Beautiful people, clothing and accessories are the reason fashion blogs are so popular.
The Alchemist is a beautiful story. It doesn't judge, because judgement is ugly. The places Santiago goes are beautiful. The ending of the story is beautiful and uplifting.
3. Be relatable
Every heard a teenager tell why they LOVE this-and-that artist so much or why they LOVE this-and-that song? "It's like he's singing about me! It's like he's singing to me!"
Not just teenagers but people in general want to feel understood. How often have you got happy to find out you aren't the only one with this fear or you aren't the only one who feels this way? Can you make someone happy like that as well?
Being relatable and adaptable to different people and situations is the reason why so many find The Alchemist so great. It talks about things we all have felt and we all have desired. The feel for change. The fear of change. The desire to be or do something grand. The desire to do your own thing and to be your own person. The mistakes, regret and those moments of our lives when we are beaten down. The hunger for freedom. The hope of being loved.
Bonus point - Give choices, not instructions
People who know nothing about your situation are most likely to give you advice about it. For instance those who have never been and will never be self employed love to tell how you should be an do with your business. It's so annoying.
Unsolicited instructions are the way to make people to ignore you. Support and sincere help is the way to get people to listen.
The king in the doesn't give instructions, but helps with making decisions. The boy Santiago learns by watching and listening his lambs, other people, desert and the whole world. The Alchemist doesn't teach alchemy, but he shows how to learn it and what could be.
Photo by Zach Dischner under Creative Commons license.
Suomeksi (In Finnish):
En ollut lukenut Alkemistia aiemmin, koska sen aikaansaama innostus epäilytti minua. Mutta ajan kanssa tulin uteliaaksi. Luin kirjan eilen ja ymmärsin miksi se on niin suosittu. Sen suosiosta voi oppia jotain, jos haluaa menestyä. 1. Tee helppoa: Helppo ei ole huonoa ja halpaa. Vaikeasti ymmärrettävää tai käytettävää on helpompi luoda kuin helppoa. 2. Tarjoa jotain kaunista: Kauneus kiehtoo kaikkia. Estetiikka on yksi suuri syy monien menestystarinoiden takana. 3. Anna syy samaistua: Näkemykseni on, että suurin syy Alkemistin suosioon on se, että lähes kuka tahansa löytää siitä jotakin, johon samaistua. Bonus - Anna vaihtoehtoja ohjeiden sijaan: Pyytämättä tuputetut ohjeet ovat hyvä keino saada kaikki välttelemään sinua. Tuki ja vilpitön apu saa kuuntelemaan. Alkemistikaan ei opeta alkemiaa, vaan näyttää miten oppia sitä ja mitä voisi olla.