Andrew Huth

April 28, 2021

Book insights: The Catalyst

The sub-title of The Catalyst, by Jonah Berger, is "how to change anyone's mind". Which sounds sleazy. Fortunately, it's really about influencing people in positive ways. For example, to improve their health, or to get onboard with a work project.

Key insights
  • People prefer autonomy
  • People love what they already do
  • People hate uncertainty
  • Some people with entrenched or extreme positions can be persuaded.

People prefer autonomy. Even when it makes them worse off. In fact, threatening to restrict something can cause people to do it more (called "reactance" in the book). We must allow for people's agency. Some techniques for doing that are providing a menu of options, or asking leading questions to help people persuade themselves.

People love what they already do. Called "status quo bias" in the book. The advantages of something new must be much better than what someone is already doing. Not just a little bit better. One way to overcome is to surface the cost of inaction. Another is to start by asking for less. Can always ask for more later.

People hate uncertainty. Like autonomy, people will choose certainty. Even when they're worse off. Some ways to reduce uncertainty are "trialability" (making it easy to try something out) and making things reversible.

Some people with entrenched or extreme positions can be persuaded. For example, someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum can be influenced. One way is to start with understanding. Understand why people believe what they do. Another way is to start with people who are already close to your position. If you can persuade them, they'll bring others along with them.  Finally, you can "switch the field". Find common ground or something similar in someone's experience, which makes an issue less abstract and more easily relatable.

Overall The Catalyst has thoughtful and relevant points that are easily relatable to work and my day to day experiences. It does, however, feel padded. One of the many non-fiction books that could've been a blog post or article.