A Successful Catalyst


Why do I need to know the definition of a catalyst? The answer is simple, at some point in our life and career, we serve as a catalyst for others. We could be a worker providing the right information to transform a process and create efficiency. We could be a new COO directing a corporate culture towards success...or failure.


I like the idea of being a catalyst. The OPT has built this into our approach with clients. Here is some research-based food for thought from Jonah Berger’s book entitled The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind.


Each chapter lays out a key roadblock to accepting ideas and implementing new programs or processes and how to address each:

Principle 1: Reactance

When pushed, people push back. Just like a missile defense system protects against incoming projectiles, people have an innate anti-persuasion system radar that kicks in when they sense someone is trying to be convincing. To lower this barrier, catalysts encourage people to persuade themselves. Jonah teaches the science of reactance, how warnings become recommendations and the power of tactical empathy.

Principle 2: Endowment

As the old saying goes, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." People are wedded to what they are already doing. Unless what they are doing is terrible, people don't want to switch. To ease endowment or people’s attachment to the status quo, catalysts highlight how inaction has implicit cost too. The book covers why sellers value things more than buyers, why the upsides to action need to be 2-6 times larger than the downsides to inaction in order to get people to act. The author explains “Why spraining a finger can actually be more painful than breaking one."


Principle 3: Distance

People’s innate anti-persuasion system, even when just providing information, sometimes backfires. If new information is within people’s zone acceptance, they’re willing to listen. But if it is too far away, in the region of rejection, everything flips. Communication is ignored, or even worse, increases opposition.

Principle 4: Uncertainty

Change often involves uncertainty. Will a new product, service or idea be as good as the old one? It is hard to know for sure. This uncertainty makes people hit the pause button, halting action to overcome this barrier. Catalysts make things easier to try; think free samples at the supermarket or test drives at the car dealership, reduce risk by letting people experience things for themselves.


Principle 5: Corroborating Evidence

Sometimes one person, no matter how knowledgeable or assured, is not enough. Some ideas just need more proof; evidence to overcome the translation problem and to drive change. Sure, one person endorsed something, but what does their endorsement say about whether I’ll like it? To overcome this barrier, catalysts find reinforcement: corroborating evidence. A catalyst will see which sources are most impactful, and why and when it's better to concentrate scarce resources rather than spreading them out.


Catalysts reduce Reactance, ease Endowment, shrink Distance, alleviate Uncertainty and find Corroborating Evidence.

Jonah goes on to provide excellent examples in his book. Part II of this post will highlight these examples and discuss ways to reduce “reactance.”