CHANGE NEEDS A CATALYST
Todd Dewett | December 2, 2021
Change doesn’t just happen. It needs a catalyst. It needs to be facilitated. Years ago, I did a bit while speaking that was designed to make this point.
I would ask the audience to close their eyes and trust me. People would comply. Then I asked them, with their eyes remaining closed, to stand up. A few would immediately stand up, but most hesitated. However, everyone could hear others standing up, and after receiving this input nearly everyone seated would stand.
Then I’d offer them a chance to opt-out before giving my last instruction. A few always did. They would open their eyes and look around, happy to be done with the absurdity. For the final instruction, I’d tell those who were still with me, with their eyes remaining closed, to very slowly and carefully step up and stand on their chair.
Immediately a few more people would opt-out. At the same time, a few wonderfully crazy audience members would start groping around, attempting to climb up on their chairs. More than a few event organizers were angry at me for engaging in this risky activity – but audiences absolutely loved it.
I was in the front of the room, standing on my own chair watching this unfold. Nervous laughter simmered around the room. Once again, after hearing the sound of the first few climbers, nearly everyone else followed their lead.
Moments later I would ask them to stay right where they were and open their eyes. Grins and giggles were common. “What do you see?” I asked. I answered my own question, “A bunch of insane people standing on chairs!” More laughter.
I would ask them again to stay put while I debriefed the stunt. I pointed out that everyone closed their eyes. It was low risk, no biggie. Then I noted that only a few stood when asked, but after hearing the pioneers the rest followed. When others embraced the idea, the absurd somehow became fun. Same with standing on the chairs. Hesitation, pioneers, and then the majority followed slowly. Again, the absurd had become fun and everyone joined in!
This is how change often works. The goodness or the absurdness of the idea itself does matter, but not as much as you’d think. What really matters is the context and execution. What the leader says and does. How others react. How the process is managed.
Even difficult and scary changes can be embraced when someone serves as a catalyst to show the way. What is the change that needs to take place in your team or in your organization? Is there a catalyst that can be useful to initiate the change? Can you help facilitate? You don’t have to stand on a chair, but you might need to start a new conversation.