book covers the catalyst

A One-Page Summary Of

The Catalyst

How to Change Anyone's Mind

The Main Idea

Change is hard — and the normal approach of pushing people by overwhelming them with facts and figures doesn't work. A better approach is to take a hint from nature and become a "catalyst" instead. Catalysts bring about change by reducing the barriers so change is easy.

To find someone's mental parking brakes and then actually get people to change their minds, there are five key roadblocks which you have to reduce or eliminate:

Catalysts have revolutionized chemistry. Their discovery generated multiple Nobel Prizes, kept billions of people from starving, and spawned some of the greatest inventions of the last few centuries. But their underlying approach is equally powerful in the social world. Because there is a better way to generate change. It's not about pushing harder. And it's not about being more convincing or a better persuader. These tactics might work once in a while, but more often than not they just lead people to up their defenses. Instead, it's about being a catalyst — changing minds by removing roadblocks and lowering the barriers that keep people from taking action.
Jonah Berger

How Converging Technologies are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives

Roadblock #1 — Reactance. Most people when pushed just automatically push back. They have an inbuilt anti-persuasion protection radar which kicks in whenever someone is trying to persuade them to do something. To lower this barrier, find a workable way to help people persuade themselves instead. If you can make them think this is their idea, they will act.

Roadblock #2 — Endowment. Many people live by the creed: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". To ease and ideally eliminate this roadblock, highlight how inaction is not as costless as it seems at first glance. Get people to see that not acting is in fact costing them and you can release the handbrake.

Roadblock #3 — Distance. The further away the person trying to persuade is, the less inclined people feel to make changes. You have to make information relevant and within the person's zone of acceptance before they will take any notice. Do that and you can become a catalyst for change.

Roadblock #4 — Uncertainty. Change pretty much always introduces uncertainty. Catalysts overcome this by making the new things easier to try so people experience things for themselves. Letting people take a no-risk test drive is often essential to becoming an effective catalyst.

Roadblock #5 — Corroboration. The more people you can get to provide corroborating evidence, the more likely it becomes someone will choose to join their ranks. Catalysts have a knack for providing persuasive reinforcement based on corroboration.

Acting as a catalyst. An effective catalyst will understand both the underlying science of each roadblock and the principles which can be used to mitigate each of those roadblocks. Pure and simple catalysts REDUCE roadblocks, thereby helping people change their minds and incite action. Thinking and then acting as a catalyst who specializes in finding the handbrake and releasing it is a great way to operate.

About the Author

Jonah Berger is professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. He is an expert on behavior change, social influence, word of mouth, and why products catch on. He is the author of Contagious and Invisible Influence, and has published more than fifty papers in academic journals as well as articles in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review. Dr. Berger consults with several companies including Google, Apple, Nike, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He is a graduate of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

Summaries.Com Editor's Thoughts

I really enjoyed reading THE CATALYST by Jonah Burger. He is a professor of marketing at the Wharton School who specializes in how social dynamics influence decision making, which is highly relevant in today's social media driven world. In his previous book CONTAGIOUS, Dr. Berger analyzed the six factors which make ideas go viral. He had some great ideas there about what it takes to harness social influence and word-of-mouth to get products and ideas to catch on. Very smart.

In this book, he makes the point that the normal approach to try and influence someone is to keep bombarding them with more facts and figures. Most of the time, we try and use brute force to get our ideas across. Jonah Berger notes that is hard. An alternative approach is to try and remove the handbrakes to change, rather than increasing the horsepower behind change. Figure out how to remove the barriers that are stopping people from changing and remove them, and then making change will be easier. That's what catalysts do in nature, and it works for social situations equally well.

The perfect example of that phenomena in action is Zappos. When the company first started, everyone said that you couldn't sell shoes on the Internet because people had to try them on first. Zappos removed that barrier by offering free shipping and a no-questions-asked return policy. With those barriers removed, the company was able to grow its revenues past the billion dollar mark and to subsequently be acquired by Amazon. If you're looking for a way to move forward, don't just look for ways to add more grunt. Explore if you can act as a catalyst for change instead. Very savvy.