March 2020 | 

The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind

The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind

In his previous books, Wharton professor Jonah Berger explained how to make products and ideas catch on, and how to we can be more influential. In The Catalyst (Simon & Schuster, March 2020), he explains how to change minds, organizations, industries, and the world.

It sounds like a tall order, and it is. Most of us have tried and failed, using the popular — but ineffective — method of presenting facts and evidence in order to convince someone that we’re right. Berger offers a different approach: instead of pushing people toward our desired outcomes, he says we need to focus on removing the roadblocks that prevent them from seeing it our way.

Each chapter in the book is dedicated toward one of those roadblocks, and how best to address it. In Chapter One, we learn why persuasion doesn’t work: when pushed, people become “reactant,” and push back. As an antidote to reactance, Berger outlines several techniques for encouraging people to persuade themselves.

One technique is to provide a menu of choices that you have pre-selected. Any parent who’s ever asked their child whether they want to eat the broccoli before the chicken, or the chicken before the broccoli, is familiar with this approach. When you allow people some autonomy, you increase the likelihood that you’ll get them to choose a preferred option. Advertising agencies do this when presenting work to clients. Instead of offering one idea, which the client could then spend the rest of the meeting poking holes in, they offer two or three.

Each chapter ends with a case study, a close examination of Berger’s insights at work. Anyone who has attended one of his sessions in Strategic Marketing for Competitive Advantage or been enrolled in one of his MBA classes may have heard a few of these powerful stories before. They include changing the mind of a boss, an extremist, consumers, and voters. The case studies explain in detail how a bank branch office manager convinced senior management to adopt a new initiative, and what led a lifelong Democrat to start voting Republican (and vice versa).

Throughout The Catalyst, Berger’s research and practical guidance offer leaders, employees, marketers, parents, and others powerful techniques for changing minds. It is a tall order — but he delivers.