Stop Persuading and Start Changing Minds: Read The Catalyst


The best way to change someone’s mind is to stop persuading them and remove the barriers that have stopped them so far. The Catalyst outlines the 5 most common barriers that keep people stuck and how to overcome them.

The Catalyst

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The Catalyst

I was hooked as soon as I heard Jonah Berger had come out with a new book.

You, on the other hand, might need a little more information before you pick up your own copy of “The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind.”

Just try and tell me you don’t want to read this one for the title alone!

Think of the possibilities!

You want to go to the beach and your partner wants to go camping — BOOM! Beach it is.

That client you’ve been trying to woo who can’t seem to pull the trigger on the contract – POW! Contract signed.

You want your kid to clean his room? No problem, the room is a bastion of beauty!

That is the super-powers you’ll have after reading  “The Catalyst”.

Ready?  Just wait. It gets better.

The Difference Between Persuasion and Changing Minds is How You Deal with Obstacles

The main message from “The Catalyst” is that persuasion isn’t as effective as changing minds. The idea for Catalyst came to Berger when he realized so many of the work that he’d been doing was more focused on pushing rather than eliminating roadblocks.

Like most insights, it came to him when he stopped asking “What do I have to do to get them to do X?” to “Why haven’t they done X already?”

Let me explain.

Persuasion is a pushing exercise while changing someone’s mind is more of a pulling exercise.

Think of it this way.

Between you and your audience is an obstacle course. When you are persuading them, you’re giving them all the reasons why going through the obstacle course is a great idea.

But, when you’re changing their minds, you’re actually crossing the obstacle course to stand next to your audience,  and helping them remove the obstacles that are keeping them from the prize at the other end.

Another way to look at it is that persuasion creates temporary results.  Someone may choose to buy from you but will they do it again? Maybe not.

When you change someone’s mind, the shift is practically permanent.

You are the Catalyst

Berger maintains that the mind-changing experience is a type of chemical reaction that happens in the mind of the audience. And, what’s called for is a sort of “Catalyst.”

If you remember your high school chemistry, you’ll recall that a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.

In other words, you play the role of the catalyst when you remove the obstacles or blinders that keep your customer from fully understanding how you could help them.

The 5 Obstacles You Must Remove to Change Minds

Through a series of engaging stories, Berger sheds a light on the invisible barriers that keep people in their fixed frames of mind.

Warning: these won’t be new to you.  What will be enlightening are the specific examples and strategies you’ll discover to help you help the person you are convincing.

1. Reactance: When pushed, people push back. Stop throwing facts at them and start asking questions that start with why, how, and what.

2. Endowment: People don’t like change. In fact, people won’t change even if the change is to their benefit. Try focusing on the costs of not changing.

3. Distance: When someone has a polar opposite opinion of yours or when you have a really big ask, consider asking for less.

4. Uncertainty: People are risk averse. Look for ways to remove or eliminate risk. Make things easy to try.

5. Corroborating Evidence: This is related to risk. Some people need more corroborating evidence from multiple sources.

Case Studies are Boring. Stories are Fun

I never really liked case studies in school.  I recognized that they were important, but they were just so doggone dry it was hard to relate to any of them.

Maybe Berger didn’t like case studies either, because the examples he uses in “The Catalyst” are vibrant and relatable.

The introduction reels you in with a story about Greg, the FBI agent turned hostage negotiator after he witnessed a hardened international criminal turn himself in without a fight.

You’ll meet Chuck Wolfe, who was able to decrease teen smoking rates by 75% by using the power of reactivity.  Instead of smoking, he asked teens to consider rebelling against the cigarette companies who are the ones influencing  your behavior.

Why are Jonah Berger’s Books So Much Fun to Read?

Berger has spent decades studying what makes things popular, how to spread ideas and how to get the messaging for your product or service just right. Contagious and Invisible influencer are two of his other books.

He is a professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.  And I think this is key to why Berger’s books are always at the top of my favorite book lists.

First, he is a working marketing expert. He works on some sticky marketing challenges with some of the biggest brands in the world.  So, his “on the court” experience is often what motivates the topics he writes about.

Second, he’s a researcher and a storyteller.  If you like Malcolm Gladwell, Freakonomics, Chip and Dan Heath or Martin Lindstrom, you’ll probably love anything by Jonah Berger. He asks a powerful question, tells a few stories to illustrate, and then gives you a recommendation that you get excited about.

It’s Time to Rethink Persuasion

Let’s face it.

Trust is at an all time low.  We don’t trust elected officials. We don’t trust the news. And we don’t trust anyone trying to “sell us” something.

Reading  “The Catalyst”  brings home the point that the way to change someone’s mind isn’t to throw facts at them and then roll your eyes.

Far from it.

If you want something from someone you need to step into their world. Ask questions and remove the obstacles in their thinking.

“The Catalyst” isn’t for every marketer.

If you have unlimited funds and want to keep pushing your message to a mass audience.  Go ahead. It’s easier and won’t require a lot of work on your part.

But if you want to create loyal trusting relationships with customers and the people in your life, you’ll read “The Catalyst”

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Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."