Business Book Review: “The Catalyst–How to Change Anyone’s Mind”

Change is fundamental to life and business. How can you get a recalcitrant client to place an order? Why does the boss stick to outdated technology that no longer works? Why did a new product or service flop? Why, despite abundant evidence, do we stick to demonstrably false ideas?

“The Catalyst – How to Change Anyone’s Mind” by Jonah Berger offers a fresh and appealing take on change. Berger looks at change from the perspective of barriers to change and argues convincingly that people don’t change because of these barriers, and it is overcoming these barriers that leads to change. 

The traditional models of change often rely on persuasion, offering more and more evidence and facts. If customers only understood the features and benefits of the new product, they would buy. If the boss could get the correct points, she would change. Berger does not deny the value of persuasion, but his model focuses more on impediments: why haven’t they changed already?

Berger’s Catalyst Model

His model REDUCE looks at Reactance, Endowment, Distance, Uncertainty, Corroborating and Evidence (REDUCE). 

Reactance is when we push back when being pushed. Overcoming reactance requires allowing for agency, the power to make one’s choices. In the business world, it could be giving someone a choice between A and B. 

Endowment looks at the status quo. What about the way things are is more compelling than change? Doing nothing can be easier than doing something.

Distance is the emotional steps between where the person is and where the change would occur. A business owner might be strongly opposed to allowing everyone to work from home every day, but he might accept a few days a month. A Southern Baptist minister might not accept gay marriage, but she might be willing to accept laws that protect everyone’s right to non-discrimination. 

Uncertainty is the idea that people are hesitant to change to something they haven’t fully bought into. Berger cites “try before you buy” and “freemium” (free to use the basic services) as examples of getting buy-in before asking for money. 

Corroborating is how we seek proof from others. Are we trying to move pebbles or boulders? Should we concentrate our change goals on a few (a firehose) or many (a sprinkler)?

About a third of the example in his book–Zappos, Dropbox, Amazon-come from the business world. Other examples include hostage negotiating, anti-smoking campaigns, and interventions on those with drug/alcohol dependencies. That said, every part of his model has clear and evident applications to business.


The book is not meant to be a compendium of all the change research; instead, it adds a fresh perspective on why change does not occur. The traditional persuasion, offer facts and be persistent models still matters.

Read or Not?

Would I recommend  “The Catalyst How to Change Anyone’s Mind” to business-focused readers? Absolutely. It’s a quick read, and the examples from inside and outside the business world all have applicability to a wide range of business situations.