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First Round Review: Pull, Don’t Push: How Catalysts Overcome Barriers and Drive Product Adoption

From First Round Review: 

Trying to change someone’s mind often feels like a fruitless pursuit, almost as if it requires waving some sort of magic wand or casting an enchanting spell. On a smaller scale, you might think of a particularly sticky argument where you struggled to get your point across, or the broader, seemingly intractable debates that play out on the national stage. Founders looking to win over customers with their product know this frustrating feeling all too well, whether they’re trying to draft copy that convinces, develop features that add value — or get prospects to even pick up the phone.

But Jonah Berger wants to let you in on a little secret: You can change anyone’s mind with a little bit of science. The Wharton Marketing Professor and bestselling author of Contagious and Invisible Influence has spent nearly two decades researching how social influence works and how certain products and ideas catch on. (Keen readers of The Review may remember his article on the Goldilocks Effect and how it can be used to leverage social influence in the startup world.) In his follow-up book The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind, Berger explores the process of how we form opinions and likens the art of persuasion to something much more tangible.

“Think about carbon being squeezed into a diamond, or plant matter being turned into oil. It takes eons of time and various forces pushing on them to do so. In the lab, chemists often want this change to happen faster, so they add energy to the system. They add temperature. They add pressure. They heat things up and they squeeze them together,” Berger says.

“But there’s a special set of substances that chemists often use that’s easier and makes change happen faster. These substances have done everything from cleaning the grime on your contact lenses to the grime on your car’s engine. Multiple Nobel prizes have been won for innovations in this space. They are called catalysts.”

 Catalysts don’t just create change by pushing harder or exerting more energy, Berger says. Rather, they find success by removing or lowering barriers to change.

This same scientific principle can also be applied to human behavior. “When we talk about catalysts in the social world, we say ‘So and so was a catalyst — they were a change agent,’” Berger says.

These people don’t ask themselves “Well what could I do to get someone to change?” Instead, they ask “Why haven’t they changed already?” What’s stopping them? What are the barriers or obstacles getting in the way?

Through his research, Berger talked to dozens of these types of change agents across all different disciplines — from top salespeople and founders to hostage negotiators, substance abuse counselors, and parenting experts. In all lines of their work, he found people tended to run into the same five barriers to change, which he distilled down into a helpful five-step framework called REDUCE (reactance, endowment, distance, uncertainty, and corroborating evidence).

A successful catalyst, according to Berger, is a master at spotting these five barriers when they pop up and applying creative solutions to break them down. “These five barriers come up again and again, and if we understand these barriers, we can make change more likely in any situation,” Berger says. The complete framework can be found in his book (and if you are curious, you can also download one-pagers and worksheets to dive in deeper).

Read more at First Round Review.

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