The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind by Jonah Berger – Here are my seven lessons and takeaways

The Catalyst, BergerOne definition of persuasion:
Changing someone’s mind, attitude, or behavior.


Have you ever changed your mind?
Have you ever shifted your thinking?  A little?  Or a whole lot?
Have you ever been persuaded to buy a product or service?  Maybe a product or service you did not even know that you needed?

From the earliest days of any thoughts about communication, we have been interested in how to persuade others.  One wording for the definition of rhetoric, from the classical genius Aristotle, was “rhetoric is the art of finding the available means of persuasion.”  And, he recommended three primary means of persuasion:

  • logos – the logical appeal – your message makes sense; is logical
  • pathos – the emotional appeal – your appeal stirs the emotions of your audience, pointing in the direction of your message. And, you demonstrate emotion in the delivery of your message.
  • ethos – the ethical appeal – you come across as credible; you know your stuff; you are trustworthy; and you come across as trustworthy. You do not seek to mislead.

Though we do not know the source of this, there is also a fourth appeal (some near-contemporary of Aristotle), a fourth means of persuasion:

  • mythos – the narrative appeal. Your use of stories, you inclusion of the audience into the ongoing story, can be a very persuasive tool.

And, this is critical:  no one of the four is likely to get the job done.   A combination of the four is likely what is needed.

All of this is ancient wisdom.  And yet people do not change their minds very often.  And a whole lot of experts, with their very best efforts, do not succeed at persuading others as often as they would like.

Here is one reason;  I am fully convinced that persuasion is not something that I do to you or you do to me; persuasion is something that I do to myself; and you do to yourself.

In other words, all persuasion is self-persuasion.

That idea – that all persuasion is really self-persuasion – is an idea worth keeping top of mind.  And if it is true, how does one persuade others.  Maybe we don’t.  Maybe we simply act as a good catalyst for that other person, to help them persuade himself/herself.

This role of catalyst to help others persuade themselves is pretty much the much the heart of the excellent book by Jonah Berhger:  The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind.  I presented my synopsis of this book for the May First Friday Book Synopsis (delivered on ZoomYou can watch my presentation by clicking here).

As with practically all for the books I present, I fully recommend this book.  If you are in sales; if you are seeking to gain agreement with team memebrs, of a client, or…anybody..this book would be worth a careful reading.

The book is filled with good, truly illustrative stories; to many to mention in this post.  But here are some of the elements of my synopsis (I included these in pretty much all of my presentations):

  • What is the point?
  • Use all the strategies you can, but understand this:  all persuasion is self-persuasion.  Your job is to be the catalyst to help enable self-change.
  • Why is this book worth our time?

#1 – This book explains why persuasion is so very difficult.
#2 – This book explains why so many messages attempted messages of persuasion have practically no chance of working.
#3 – This book provides some strategies that make persuasion possible; while demonstrating that all persuasion is self-persuasion.

• Some Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages:
• Everyone has something they want to change.  But change is hard.
• People have a need for freedom and autonomy.  …Consequently, people are loath to give up agency.
• Before people will change, they have to be willing to listen. They have to trust the person they’re communicating with. And until that happens, no amount of persuasion is going to work.
• Change is hard, because people tend to overvalue what they have.
Everyone is worried about the risk of doing something new. …they tend to spend less time thinking about something equally important: The risks of doing nothing.
• When the status quo is terrible, it’s easy to get people to switch. They’re willing to change because inertia isn’t a viable option. But when things aren’t terrible, or are just okay but not great, it’s harder to get people to budge. …Terrible things get replaced, but mediocre things stick around.
• If we just share more evidence, list more reasons, or put together the right deck, people will switch. But just as often this blows up in our faces. Rather than shifting perspectives, people dig in their heels.
• Venture capitalists often refer to products and services as vitamins or painkillers. Nice-to-haves (e.g., vitamins) that can be put off until later, or need-to-haves (e.g., painkillers) that people can’t live without.
• Give people a choice between a certain, good thing and an uncertain but potentially better thing and see what they pick. You probably said you would pick the sure thing. … Why? Because people are risk averse. They like knowing what they are getting, and as long as what they are getting is positive, they prefer sure things to risky ones.
• New things almost always involve uncertainty, so if it’s not clear how much better something new will be, might as well play it safe and stick with the status quo.
• The one that explained the most variance in the studies he (Rogers) reviewed, was a concept he called “trialability.” Simply put, trialability is how easy it is to try something. The ease with which something can be tested or experimented with on a limited basis.
• The easier it is to try something, the more people will use it, and the faster it catches on.

Here are some of the key points I pulled from the book:

  • Get this — this is the whole ball game:
  • all persuasion is self-persuasion.To lower this barrier, catalysts encourage people to persuade themselves.
  • the “persuader” is simply a “catalyst” for self-persuasion
  • Pushing harder does not workWhether trying to change company culture or get the kids to eat their vegetables, the assumption is that pushing harder will do the trick.
  • The problems; the enemies of persuasion
  • the power of inertia – Just like moons and comets, people and organizations are guided by conservation of momentum. Inertia. They tend to do what they’ve always done. 
  • The Five Principles — Reactance, Endowment, Distance, Uncertainty, and Corroborating Evidence can be called the five horsemen of inertia. Five key roadblocks that hinder or inhibit change.
  • These five ways to be a catalyst can be organized into an acronym. Catalysts reduce Reactance, ease Endowment, shrink Distance, alleviate Uncertainty, and find Corroborating Evidence. Taken together, that forms an acronym, REDUCE. Which is exactly what great catalysts do. They REDUCE roadblocks. They change minds and incite action by reducing barriers to change. 
  • Principle 1 – Reactance — Restriction generates a psychological phenomenon called reactance. An unpleasant state that occurs when people feel their freedom is lost or threatened.
  • When pushed, people push back — people have an innate anti-persuasion system.
  • telling people not to do something has the opposite effect: it makes them more likely to do it.
  • To reduce reactance, catalysts allow for agency. Four key ways to do that are: (1) Provide a menu, (2) ask, don’t tell, (3) highlight a gap, and (4) start with understanding. 
  • Principle 2: Endowment
  • People are wedded to what they’re already doing. And unless what they’re doing is terrible, they don’t want to switch.
  • The status quo bias is everywhere.
  • So how do we ease endowment? Two key ways are to (1) surface the cost of inaction, and (2) burn the ships.
  • Principle 3: Distance
  • Another barrier is distance. If new information is within people’s zone of acceptance, they’re willing to listen. But if it is too far away, in the region of rejection, everything flips.
  • the zone of acceptance and the region of rejection — Different people not only have different positions on the field, their zones of acceptance and regions of rejection vary as well.
  • people have “confirmation bias” – they believe what confirms what they already believe…
  • How do catalysts avoid the region of rejection and encourage people to actually consider what they have to say? (1) find the movable middle, (2) ask for less, and (3) switch the field to find an unsticking point.
  • When trying to change those who are further away, we need to start by asking for less, – Start with a place of agreement and pivot from there to switch the field.
  • Principle 4: Uncertainty
  • reducing risk by letting people experience things for themselves.
  • the birth of Zappos (, and the idea of uncertainty – consider free shipping; and free and easy returns…
  • the one that explained the most variance in the studies he reviewed, was a concept he called “trialability.” Simply put, trialability is how easy it is to try something. The ease with which something can be tested or experimented with on a limited basis. (Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovationsauthor)
  • The question, then, is how to reduce uncertainty by lowering the barrier to trial.
  • (1) harness freemium, (2) reduce up-front costs, (3) drive discovery, and (4) make it reversible.
  • Principle 5: Corroborating Evidence
  • Some things just need more proof. More evidence to overcome the translation problem and drive change.
  • The “translation problem” – and, who, in your mind, has credibility (Aristotle: ethos)
  • repeat ideas; pretty quickly — Trying to change the boss’s mind? After stopping by her office, catalysts encourage colleagues to make a similar suggestion right away. Concentration increases impact.
  • is it a pebble, or a boulder – The more expensive, time-consuming, risky, or controversial something is, the less likely it is to be a pebble and the more likely it is to be a boulder. 

And here are my lessons and takeaways:

#1 – I’m not sure I’m going to be able to actually learn – i.e., implement; put into practice – these lessons.
#2 – People do not like to change. Much of anything.  We have to recognize this reality.
#3 – Big asks/big changes are much more unlikely than small asks/small changes.
#4 – Make your “next step” request easy; convenient; tolerable. – “Free,” trialability, returnability/refundability/reversibility helps.
#5 — Get really good at asking questions; and then listen to the responses. – Learn to pause, in order to listen!
#6 – The most obvious lesson is this – persuading others requires a strategy to assume the catalyst role, in order to make self-persuasion possible, and more likely.
#7 – AND…you could be wrong about something.  Where, about what, do you need to persuade yourself to change?

We are all, pretty much always, in the persuasion business.  We start by persuading our ourselves.  Then our family members, and our colleagues, and customers, and…pretty much everybody.

So, have you become a good catalyst for persuasion.  It not, this book is worth studying carefully.


My synopsis, with my comprehensive, multi-page handout, and the audio recording of my presentation ,will be available soon from the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  Click here for our newest additions.

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