Interview with the Author: The Catalyst by Jonah Berger

Whenever we try to change something, we often default to a particular approach: Pushing. Is the boss not listening to that new idea? Send them another PowerPoint deck. Client not buying the pitch? Remind them of all the reasons they should. Today we talk about removing what is blocking people from change. Jonah Berger, professor at Wharton Business School and best-selling author, talks about his new book The Catalyst. We look at the five barriers that prevent change and how to mitigate them. Jonah Berger is a researcher and shares his unique point of view on how you can become a catalyst to change.

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Jonah Berger: The Transcript

Target Audience: Jonah Berger is a Marketing Professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, an internationally bestselling author, and a world-renowned expert on change, influence, word of mouth, natural language processing, consumer behavior, and how products, ideas, and behaviors catch on. He has published over 50 articles in top‐tier academic journals, teaches Wharton’s highest rated online course, and popular accounts of his work often appear in places like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Jonah Berger
When we push people in the social world, we all know what happens, which is often they push back, they don’t just listen, they don’t just roll over, they don’t just go ahead. They think about all the reasons why we’re wrong, why they shouldn’t do what we’re suggesting they do, or even, they don’t listen in the first place. And so pushing often doesn’t work. And so the better way there could be actually coming from chemistry, I was talking to some friends of mine who were chemists. And they were talking about the substance in chemistry, the set of substances that basically allow change to happen faster and easier. And we won’t go deep into chemistry here, but you know, essentially, chemistry change takes a long time, a lot of temperatures, a lot of pressure things to happen. And these substances what are called in chemistry, catalysts, work in a very particular way. They don’t just make change happen. They make change happen with less energy.

Intro [0:47]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leader And their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [1:05]
Today we’re going to talk about change. Change is hard. Change is something that we all have to deal with. Either we internally have to change the way we see things, the way we’re doing things, our behaviors, maybe it’s something personal in your life. Or maybe it’s in a leadership role where you’re getting others to talk about change and, and accept new ways of doing things. Organizations are trying to improve their culture, get people to be more innovative, get them to, to take ownership, all of this requires a high degree of change. So I went out into my network and I found one of the perfect persons to talk about this. Jonah Berger. Jonah is a professor at the Wharton School. It’s the University of Pennsylvania and an amazing researcher, Professor, author. He’s written three books, one of them is contagious. New York Times bestseller, also Invisible Influence. Today we’re going to talk about “The Catalyst”. We’re gonna talk about what is the real key idea behind getting people to change and it might surprise you, persuading them is not the best path. But inside this episode, we’ll talk about what is the best path and what you can do about it as a leader driving change in your organization.

Gene Hammett [2:19]
Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank. Really excited about sharing this with you. And before you run, I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks, I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is going to So you can get the 12 principles and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align with each individual episode. When do you subscribe to Growth Think Tank? you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward and many of them haven’t been published yet, depending on when you’re hearing this, but you can tune in to the date means the most to you. Here’s the interview with Jonah Berger.

Gene Hammett [3:04]
Hi Jonah, how are you?

Jonah Berger [3:05]
Hey, thanks so much for having me.

Gene Hammett [3:07]
Well, excited to have you back on the show you were here for contagious that came out a few years ago, then you had Invisible Influence. And now you’ve decided to put your research to work again and write “The Catalyst”. So I’ve already introduced the audience a little bit about you and what you stand for. But why did this book have to be written?

Jonah Berger [3:29]
It’s funny, and in the years that have followed after contagious, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of organizations, big and big and small. Everything from the Googles and the apples and the Nikes of the world, small startups, you know, fast-growing b2b companies and slow-growing b2c companies and nonprofits, everything in between. and I found something interesting, which is that everyone had something that they wanted to change for the marketers and the sales folks that were changing the customer, the client, right, how do we get that customer that may be wedded to a different provider to get them to come around us. How do we change consumer behavior? For the people within organizations? That was how do I change my boss’s mind? How do I get them to come on board?

Jonah Berger [4:10]
I’m a leader, how do I change organizational culture, I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been to where, you know, the speaker before me talks about how we as a company to be riskier and more innovative and embrace change. So everyone agrees that they want to change things. But when you look, the change often doesn’t happen. You know, we push and prod and make presentations and emails and make a phone call. And it often doesn’t work. And so the simple idea behind the research of this book was, you know, could there be a better way? might we be doing it wrong might be there a simpler, easier and more effective way to change minds, actions, organizations, and even the world?

Gene Hammett [4:46]
Well, when I was looking through this, I didn’t get a chance to read all of it. But you know, a few things jumped out at me and I love the simple idea of where you talked about. Sometimes we just have to reduce the barriers to change. Where did that come to you?

Jonah Berger [5:01]
It’s funny, I was thinking about an analogy of inertia, we talk a lot about inertia. When we talk about change, status quo bias, things don’t, don’t change, don’t move. And I was thinking about, you know, we always take a certain approach, right? We always sort of push in some way, shape or form. We push people a little bit more we problem, we poke them, we think if we give them more information, more reasons, they’ll come around. And that approach works pretty well in the physical world, right?

Jonah Berger [5:27]
If I’m in my house, and you know, I needed to move a chair, like push the chair and the direction I wanted to go, it goes right in physics, you add a force in a direction unless there’s too much, you know, friction, that thing eventually moves. But the social worlds a little different, right? When we push people in the social world, I think we all know what happens, which is often they push back, right? They don’t just listen, they don’t just rollover. They don’t just go ahead. They think about all the reasons why we’re wrong, why they shouldn’t do what we’re suggesting they do or even you know, they don’t listen in the first place. And so pushing often doesn’t work. And so the Better Way there could be actually coming from chemistry, I was talking to some friends of mine who are chemists. And they were talking about the substance in chemistry, the set of substances that basically allow change to happen faster and easier. And we won’t go deep into chemistry here.

Jonah Berger [6:14]
But you know, essentially, chemistry change takes a long time, that a lot of temperatures, a lot of pressure, things don’t happen. And these substances, what are called in chemistry, catalysts, work in a very particular way. They don’t just make change happen. They make change happen with less energy, not more, not by increasing the temperature or the pressure, but by making it easier for change to happen. What they basically do is they get rid of the barriers, right? They figure out what are those things preventing change? And so I thought it was really nice analogy, the social world not, you know, what could I do to get someone to change, but kind of why haven’t they changed already? what’s preventing them? And how by mitigating those factors that are preventing them? Can we make change easier and more likely?

Commercial [6:54]
Hold on Jonah just talked about inertia. Another way to look at that is the status quo. I wrote about this In my book, The Trap of Success, but I want to share this with you today. It’s not to sell new books. But I wanted to share with you that inertia is the strongest force that you have in your business doing nothing else different from today is what is the norm? Because that level of change, actually doing something new, having new ideas, new behaviors, is very hard. That’s one reason why this is a very important book, and we’re having this interview today. But I’m just recognizing for a second that change is hard. And that that inertia is a force that you have to reckon with, back to Jonah.

Gene Hammett [7:35]
So most of the people listening in here today, Jonah are leaders of companies. They may be the founders, they may be CEOs may have some executive team members, but they’re emerging leaders. And we are all trying to get you to know, new ideas in the company. Maybe we’re trying to change the culture. So I want to ask you, I know you’ve got some the five keys to being a catalyst into to get You to know, people do change their minds and directions. Look at the let’s talk about what those five keys are from the perspective of the leader.

Jonah Berger [8:11]
Sure. Yeah, I think the first thing I would say is, as a leader of an organization, you have lots of things to do and not enough time to do them, obviously. And one place I would suggest even before jumping into the main ideas of the book is really figuring out what those barriers are. Right? I like to use an analogy of you know, you’re getting into a car, and you want the car to go right, you stick your key in the ignition and you put your foot on the gas, of course, buckle your safety, though, if the car doesn’t go, we often think it needs more gas or just press more on the gas, it will go very rarely we say, Well, hold on, maybe the parking brake is depressed.

Jonah Berger [8:44]
Let me depress that parking brake. And so the first step really is to find those parking brakes. What are those things? Or the thing that is preventing change from happening? Why aren’t people changing? And how can you mitigate that or get rid of those barriers? So, in the book, as you mentioned, I talked about a few barriers, I put them in a framework to make them easier to remember. The first one is the reactance. And that’s when we push people they push back. The second one is the endowment. Often we think change is costless. It’s not across us as it seems.

Jonah Berger [9:16]
The third is the distance. Basically, if we ask for too much, people often say, No, the fourth is uncertainty. And, you know, when we’re uncertain about what to do, we hit the pause button. And last but not least, is corroborating evidence, basically, you know, sometimes we more than just ask more proof to drive action. Put those five things together, they spell the word reduce. And that’s exactly what catalysts do. That’s exactly what good change agents do. They don’t push harder. They figure out what those parking brakes are, those barriers are, and they mitigate them. And so that’s when I you know, work with leaders or work with managers and organizations. What I really start with is saying, Well, you know, why hasn’t someone changed already? Where I’m trying to change organizational culture, okay, why haven’t they changed? I’m trying to change a client’s mind about what’s happening. To really understanding marketing, we often talk about the customer journey, what stage of that journey they’re stuck at? Why haven’t they changed already? And how am I understanding those barriers? Can we get rid of something?

Gene Hammett [10:12]
So when you’re a leader and trying to coach someone or team into making some changes, you start with really understanding what those breaks are. Right? What are those barriers? What do you do after that?

Jonah Berger [10:27]
Yeah, so I find we can talk about a couple of them here. I find it one of the big challenges is uncertainty, particularly and I like to say a sales context or even an organizational context. You know, a leader may say, Hey, we need to be more innovative. But you know, frontline manager says, okay, but how’s that gonna affect my bottom line? So recently, working with a b2b real estate company was drinking about changing their common session structure. They want people to not only blend the traditional method of sales, but also bringing some new digital tools they’ve created, but the problem is the incentive structures and set up the right way into the company. Hey, be more innovative bring this into the process. They’re saying, Well, how will that affect my take-home pay? And so the realization is all yeah, it’s gonna be fine, but they don’t necessarily know.

Jonah Berger [11:09]
And anytime there’s change, there’s what’s called switching costs. We’re very familiar with them. But it can be money, you know, I buy a new phone, it costs something, it can be time I get new software, it takes a while to install. It can even be an effort, you know, the leaders told me, Hey, we need to be more innovative, we need to change our sales process. I’m sitting there going, Well, that’s gonna take a lot of effort to do. All of those costs make a change, less likely. But the other challenge is the cost that happened right away. And the benefits of those costs open happened later on. Right? So leaders asked me to change now I have to deal with those costs.

Jonah Berger [11:42]
Now, I have to change the structure, I have to take some time I have to do something differently. Maybe there’ll be a benefit later on. Maybe I’ll get promoted. Maybe I’ll do better than I would have previously. But one it’s not going to happen till later in two. There’s some uncertainty associated with it. And people really don’t like uncertainty right. If I ask you to make A change if I say, Hey, take a hit now for benefit later. Maybe that benefits certainly we’ll do it particularly benefits uncertain. Why is it worth doing some hard thing now for some uncertain benefit later? And so one big thing I often talk about is, well, how can we lower the barrier to trial? How can we kind of reduce that upfront costs, whether that’s time, money, effort or energy, to get people to do something, so it’s easier for them to check out what we’re offering? We can think about a lot about this in sort of a traditional kind of software as a service model. From a product standpoint, think about what many companies do with freemium. So use Skype, for example, use LinkedIn use New York Times Online or whatever publication you read, often these channels use a freemium model where there’s something for free, upfront, there’s a product or service that doesn’t cost anything, but later on, there’s a premium version you can upgrade to. So think about Dropbox, for example, they give you two gigabytes of storage for free.

Jonah Berger [12:57]
Now, you might say well, giving things away for free, how could you make money doing that. But what freemium really nicely does is it lowers that upfront barrier to cost rather than having to pay money up front to figure out what they’re actually like Dropbox with a Dropbox will work for me, this encouraged me to check it out. And if I like it, I convinced myself and nobody is better than themselves at convincing themselves. But anytime you want someone to do something, why not use them to convince themselves and that’s exactly what freemium and lowering the barrier to trial does, makes it easier for people to experience an offering. I’ll give you just one more example. But there’s a great case of this in it in a sort of leadership management context.

Jonah Berger [13:35]
This guy wanted his boss to start a customer service initiative, basically saying, look, we’re bank customers like us, but they don’t love us. sure we’re shaking their hand we’re giving them the lowest rate but how can we really build loyalty to customers who want to send them birthday cards and greet them by their first name and celebrate their anniversary and do all these sorts of surprise and delight things that we see in other industries? trying to convince us manager look, we should do it Look, we should do it man is saying no and Thanks if it consultants still said, thanks for banging on traditional is not gonna work.

Jonah Berger [14:05]
So eventually the guy tried a very different approach. He basically put his manager in the situation of the customer. Right, so he found out his manager’s birthday found out his anniversary found out when he was going on a trip. And for each of these things, he did the soft touches, right? he celebrated the guy’s birthday, he knitted in a hat, when he was going on a long trip at different members of the leadership team. The child was in a car accident, they raised money through Facebook, they did all these things that showed that they cared. And then the next meeting came around. And you know, usually, the boss would have said, Oh, how do we know this is going to work? But he didn’t say that because now I knew that it worked, because he had been through that same thing himself. And so the question really is kind of how can you put people through an experience, whether it’s freemium or not, that lowers that barrier to trial that helps them see what it’s like to experience what you want them to do, and figure out the value themselves.

Gene Hammett [14:51]
I find another thing that comes up around uncertainty is it’s just that fear.

Jonah Berger [14:56]
Oh, yeah.

Gene Hammett [14:58]
This is one way to reduce that fear, but You know, what do you do with the fear? I know what I do with my clients, we have a real conversation about the fear, we acknowledge, Where’s it coming from and whatnot. But what do you do when you are wanting to get be the catalyst to this new change? But people keep being locked and stopped in their fear?

Jonah Berger [15:18]
Yeah, I mean, I think trial does a really good job of lowering the amount of fear. You know, think about online buying, online shopping for when it came out initially. You know, people liked the selections available online, but they didn’t want to have to pay money to get it to their house to figure out if they were like it. They were scared that, hey, this is not going to work. It’s not going to be good. It’s not going to fit. So what did companies do? They started free shipping, free shipping didn’t make the product itself any cheaper, but it just made it easier for people to experience that thing without having to spend a lot of money upfront and so so I would say the same thing. If people are scared of change, yes. I love the idea of asking them, you know, why are you scared and walking through that emotion, but also really trying to get them to experiences. They’re not as scared. Part of what fear is, is the unknown, right?

Jonah Berger [16:03]
Fear has uncertainty in it. That’s one of the dimensions that makes it fearful anger, we’re often very certain we know why we’re angry. If we’re anxious if we’re scared, we don’t always know why there’s something we haven’t figured out yet. And so what I think lowering that barrier to trial does really gets people to see look, this is what it’s like, by the way that doesn’t work if what it’s like isn’t good. It doesn’t work if when it’s like, it isn’t something they could enjoy and benefit from. But as long as it is it helps them see it. Right. You know, I might be scared that a certain type of car I’m not gonna like it, I take a test drive helps me figure out whether I like it really lowers that anxiety.

Gene Hammett [16:40]
So know one of the things you mentioned in the earlier piece to this was, you know, a lot of speakers that may come on before you when you’re at corporate events, talking about organizational change. And one of the big topics that I talk about a lot because it comes from my research with fast-growth companies is getting people to be more transparent. Transparency is a very big idea. It scares the crap out of a lot of leaders because they’re, you know, and I’m not talking about just financial, you know, numbers and whatnot, a lot of aspects of transparency. How does that relate, to what you’re working with? And the research you have?

Jonah Berger [17:16]
Yeah, I see this a lot of in organizations I work with as well. And one thing I talk a lot about is celebrating failure. Right. So, you know, I think there’s a big incentive in companies large and small, to make everything seem like it’s a success, right? You hire an ad agency. You want to know that things went up, you hire a social media company, you want to see your followers went up in the campaign was a big success. I’ve worked on lots of projects with other consulting firms where you know, they present numbers and everything is a success.

Jonah Berger [17:44]
The problem is, if everything is a success all the time, nothing isn’t a success, because we’re not really being honest. When we succeeded, and when we failed, and if we just shuffle the failures under the carpet we never talked about when we fail, then the successes aren’t real because they’re not different. from anything else, if we celebrate failure if we’re going to be transparent, and I love that word, say, look, you know, this is a time where we weren’t so successful. Let’s learn from it. And let’s not punish the people that are transparent because the problem is a leader, if I say I care about transparency, but then that person whose project fails, gets fired, the next person is not going to be willing to be transparent.

Jonah Berger [18:20]
I really have to live. I have to live that culture that I want to instill as a leader, but accelerating faster, making it more willing people, hey, look, we screwed up. This didn’t work, or here’s why it didn’t work, not just Hey, we failed. But here’s what we learn from it. And I think smart companies are really doing that and encouraging employees to do that so they can learn from it because not something is dangerous. Everything’s a success. Not only does it cover up the falsehood, but then to be hard for us to be successful, long term because we’re not really seeing itself.

Commercial [18:49]
Hold on per second. Jonah just talked about celebrating failure. I’ve talked about this on big stages across the country, internationally, even and I love this idea of because companies just aren’t comfortable enough to talk about their failure, but really progressive, really amazing companies and leaders are willing to celebrate failure. And I want you to also think about this, if you want your team to innovate, to do something beyond where they are now, and it doesn’t have to be just some fancy technology or new business model, it could be the innovation of your processes. You want to invite them to fail, you want to make it okay, you want them to feel a sense of safety, that if they fail, we can learn from it and move forward because these types of innovations are the backbone and the cornerstone of innovation and growth. Back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [19:40]
Fantastic. Now, I know I probably asked you a lot of things about the book, I would hold up the book right now “The Catalyst” for those that are watching the video. If you’re listening in, what is the one thing that you want people to remember about this book and apply it to their world?

Jonah Berger [19:59]
I think just you know, that simple place. And I think we started out and said this may be a little bit earlier, but whenever we’re trying to change something, whether it’s a person’s mind and organization, the way an industry does business, not thinking what we could do to create change, but asking that question, why haven’t they changed already? What is that thing that I want someone, some organization a set of people to do? Why haven’t they done that thing already? And think about what’s preventing them? Right? Are they not aware of it? If they are aware of it, as you said, what are they scared of? If they, you know, know, the details, but they think it’s not gonna work? Why do they think it’s not really thinking through those barriers? You know, is it that we’ve pushed too hard reactance is that that we’ve asked too much distance? Is it that anxiety or that uncertainty, that’s uncertainty, is it they need to hear more from multiple others before they’re convinced, but you know, there are other barriers beyond the ones I talked about in the book, really identifying those barriers, those parking brakes, makes any change more likely.

Gene Hammett [20:54]
As the way, you work those back end. So, Jonah, thanks for being here on growth, think tank and sharing your wisdom and your research.

Jonah Berger [21:01]
No problem. Thanks so much for having me.

Gene Hammett [21:02]
for having me. What a great interview. I love talking to someone who understands the research behind their work the science so that we learn today that you don’t have to push on people to get them to change, we can actually have conversations about the barriers of why they’re not changing already. That’s a key question that Jonah shared with us that I wrote down. And it’s something I’ve used in my coaching client, whenever I’m helping someone navigate a transformation in their own leadership in their own business. So if you have any questions about this today, Jonah may not be able to answer them right away, but I’d love to be able to interact with you make sure you reach out to me [email protected] I help fast-growth leaders who are already successful, create a new level of success. That’s what this is all about. If you have any questions, make sure you reach out to me [email protected] is my email, as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


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