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  • Toby Sinclair

Catalyst by Jonah Berger Summary | How To Change Anyone's Mind

Catalyst Jonah Berger Book Summary

⭐ Toby's Rating: 7/10 - Recommended For: Coaches

3 Big Ideas from Catalyst 💡

Catalyst by Jonah Berger helps you change anyone's mind:

  1. Change does not happen by being more persuasive or pushing harder. It happens by removing the barriers to change.

  2. There are 5 barriers to change: Reactance, Endowment, Distance, Uncertainty, Lack of Evidence

  3. Lasting change is a slow gradual process rather than a big bang. Like the formation of a canyon rather than a nuclear explosion.

2 Best Quotes from Catalyst by Jonah Berger 💬

Sometimes change doesn’t require more horsepower. Sometimes we just need to unlock the parking brake.
It's common to assume people are like marbles. Push them in one direction and they will go that way.

Tobys Top Takeaway

Catalyst by Jonah Berger is an easy and practical read for change agents. It emphasises a common problem with change. We push. We assume that providing more information will convince someone to change. It doesn't work. In fact, Catalyst shares that it can do the opposite, stop people from changing. Jonah Berger clearly articulates the 5 common barriers to change. For each shares practical ways to overcome the barriers.

My takeaway: people are not like marbles. Don't expect when you push they'll roll in one direction.


Big Ideas Expanded 💡

Pushing Doesn't Work

Everyone has something they want to change. Salespeople want to change their customers’ minds and marketers want to change purchase decisions. Employees want to change their bosses’ perspectives and leaders want to change organizations. But change is hard.

Organizations are guided by the conservation of momentum. They tend to do what they’ve always done.

When trying to change minds and overcome inertia, the tendency is to push. The assumption is that pushing harder will do the trick. If we just provide more information, more facts, more reasons, more arguments, or just add a little more force, people will change.

This approach assumes that people are like marbles. Push them in one direction and they will go that way.

People are not Marbles

Make It Easier To Change

Change behaviour by removing roadblocks and lowering the barriers to action.

Identify what’s preventing change from happening and remove that barrier. Allow change to happen with less energy, not more.

This book is about how to overcome inertia, incite action, and change minds—not by being more persuasive, or pushing harder, but by being a catalyst. By removing the barriers to change.

Sometimes change doesn’t require more horsepower. Sometimes we just need to unlock the

parking brake.

How was the Great Canyon formed?

One might think it was a massive earthquake or some earth-shattering event. But it was nothing that sudden or momentous. It was water, slowly wearing down rock, over millions of years. A trickle that became a steady flow that eventually became the Colorado River. Talk to someone who switched political parties, and it wasn’t one eureka moment when everything suddenly clarified. Those make for great movies or great fiction, but they rarely happen in real life. Instead, big changes tend to be more like the Grand Canyon: a slow and steady shift with many stages along the way.

Catalysts enable these slow and steady shifts of behaviour over time.

5 Barriers to Change and How to Overcome Them


When pushed, people push back. Just like a missile defense system protects against incoming projectiles, people have an innate anti-persuasion system.

So rather than telling people what to do, or trying to persuade, catalysts allow for agency and encourage people to convince themselves.

Do this by listening, asking questions and showing empathy.


As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. People are wedded to what they’re already doing.

Catalyzing change isn’t just about making people more comfortable with new things; it’s about helping them let go of old ones.

To ease endowment, catalysts surface the costs of inaction and help people realize that doing nothing isn’t as costless as it seems.

Do this by asking the question: What are the costs of inaction? In addition, make the status quo impossible to do.


People have an innate anti-persuasion system, but even when we just provide information, sometimes it backfires. Why? 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.

Catalysts shrink distance, breaking change down into smaller, less risky steps.

To do this find the middle ground and points of consensus.


Change often involves uncertainty. Will a new product, service, or idea be as good as the old one? It’s hard to know for sure, and this uncertainty makes people hit the pause button, halting action. To overcome this barrier, catalysts make things easier to try.

To get people to un-pause, catalysts alleviate uncertainty. Easier to try means more likely to buy.

Enable people to try out changing risk-free. Make it free and low risk. Amplify the learning during this trial and make it safe to quit.

Lack of Evidence

Sometimes one person, no matter how knowledgeable or assured, is not enough. Some things just need more proof. More evidence to overcome the translation problem and drive change. Sure, one person endorsed something, but what does their endorsement say about whether I’ll like it?

“If one person says you have a tail, you laugh and think they’re crazy. But if three people say it, you turn around to look.”

When trying to change minds, it’s important to be able to judge the difference between pebbles and boulders. Between attitudes and opinions, products and services, behaviors, ideas, and initiatives that need only a little proof versus ones that need a lot more. Political views, for example, are more difficult to change than font preferences (at least for most people).

Catalysts find corroborating evidence, using multiple sources to help overcome the translation problem.

A final story

Two chefs in a restaurant were fighting over the last orange left in the kitchen. It was late into dinner service, and both needed the orange for an important dish they were making, so they argued back and forth over who should have the right to use it. Eventually, time was running out to get the dishes to the table, so they took a big kitchen knife and split the orange in half, leaving both with only half of what they needed. But both chefs would have been better off if they understood the other’s motivation. Why they needed the orange. Because one needed the juice for a sauce and the other needed the peel to bake a cake.


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