Did you know that Catalysts are a sub-segment of change makers ? They are the innovators who can’t stop taking in information, connecting dots, and moving fast into action to create, and change the world – sometimes even when the world hasn’t asked for it. As a result, it can lead to difficult resistance and exhaust our catalysts.
The good news is that there are some precious guidelines to help them be resilient, and supercharge their capacity for driving impact. Moreover these steps can be helpful for all type of innovators.
Shannon Lucas & Tracey Lovejoy are not only experts of this topic, with their book ‘Move Fast. Break Shit. Burn Out’ and Catalyst Constellations, they walk the talk! They were born Catalysts, and they create a movement where Catalysts come together, share and implement survival kits, to shape the change they want to see in the world. Shannon and Tracey unlock people that change the world: they are Catalysts of Catalysts.
1) Hi, I gave a brief definition of a Catalyst, but I know you have more accurate characteristics; can you tell us about it?
Based on Tracey’s years of research there are 6 defining traits:
- Piece together information quickly – We collect information from lots of different sources: management consultant reports, industry data, science fiction books, conversations, TED talks, journals. We connect dots and find the signal through the noise.
- Many ideas and see lots of possibilities – As we connect the dots and start seeing the patterns and signals, new possible futures and paths forward start to emerge. We see new possibilities All. The. Time. At work, standing in line at the café, at home.
- Create visions – from those possibilities, a vision of the future starts to crystallize. We can see what that better future would look like.
- Drive for ACTION that transforms – Where some people might create those new visions and be called visionaries…Catalysts can’t stop themselves from moving into action to make that vision a reality.
- Experimentation mindset – We have an innate way of moving through the world: Vision, Action, Iteration. We call this the Catalyst’s Formula. Which is why so many of us are drawn to places like Innovation, because methodologies like Design Thinking describe our innate way of being.
- Intuitive and perceived as comfortable with risk and ambiguity – We may be described as risk takers, not all of us feel that way. Because we have the data. We’ve connected the dots. We’ve done enough reading, research, and spoken with enough people to know that the vision has merit. We’re often just confused why other people can’t see it.
2) Why catalysts are so important in an organization? How can the corporation spot them, and let them thrive?
Catalysts are now more important than ever. We live in a world full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). Most organizations have been slow to embrace their understand or response to a VUCA world. But if nothing else, 2020 has demonstrated that it is incontrovertible. Companies need people who are comfortable and actually thrive when they have big ambiguous challenges to tackle. And Catalysts are essentially born VUCA ready. We love connecting the dots, looking at the system from new perspectives and solving wicked challenges. Organizations need to identify and support their Catalysts now more than ever.
We have the data to help organizations identify their Catalysts. But more importantly, Catalysts need to self-identify. For the majority of Catalysts, once they come into contact with the definition, it resonates – LOUDLY. Some Catalysts have a hard time embracing the moniker for a number of reasons. They think they play too small – within the confines of their swim lane. Maybe they think you need to be more of an extrovert. Regardless, people need to feel comfortable owning the concept.
We work with organizations to help them create sustainable Catalyst Programs and to help their Catalysts thrive. We’ve done a lot of research identifying best practices. Honestly, most organizations have a lot of work to do to create a safe space for Catalysts. Those that do, will be able to hire an army of top talent, because Catalysts drive results.
Here’s a few key tips:
- Identify your big wicked challenges.Think about the intractable challenges you keep putting on back burner, you keep wishing you had someone to help you solve them. Catalysts love big systemic, complex, cross-silo challenges. Consider transformations you think would make your organization more competitive in this constant changing world and if you have the right people to activate that transformation reliably. Then consider… what will constitute success? Because usually Catalysts are tasked with creating something net new, that may exist beyond the boundaries of the normal processes or organizational structures of an organization and may be hard to quantify initially.
- Be open to identifying new challenges. Catalysts help sense what is coming around corner. They connect dots and intuit what is emerging. They are sense-makers who then develop new visions with plans to activate stakeholders to respond to new realities, fast. Be ready to adapt incentive structures to support the new realities your Catalyst is helping you create. Most likely the traditional measurements in place to quantify or track impact and progress might not be immediately relevant. Catalysts are often intrinsically motivated, but it’s important that we acknowledge their success and impact appropriately.
- Provide training.While Catalysts have superpowers, they also have blind spots. Providing the basic Catalyst training where they can bring the unconscious competencies to consciousness, they can start to work more strategically. They can become exponentially more effective and reduce resistance and friction in the organization. (And minimize their tendency to burnout)
- Provide Psychological Safety.When Catalysts are invited in to create change, they are often tasked with going off to create new visions, which are often divergent from the current strategy or operating procedures for the organization. As they come back to share what they’ve discovered, either their new ideas or the Catalysts themselves can be attacked because of people’s initial resistance to change – for a variety of reasons. Most often Catalysts don’t start with a personal objective – other than finding the best possible new solution to a problem or making things more efficient, etc. So it can be confusing to Catalysts when they come back with a vision supported by the data that causes them to be attacked. The best thing that leaders of organizations can do for Catalysts is provide the necessary psychological safety.
3) What kind of hurdles can face a catalyst? What are the consequential risks?
You can break the hurdles for Catalysts down into two major categories: those we inflict on ourselves and those we have to deal with in the workplace.
Self-inflicted: Particularly before coming to understand what it means to be a Catalyst, and not being able to see our unconscious tendencies, we can do them without intentionality. We can move too fast and leave others behind even as we start to move into action. We can move into action too fast, sometimes even before we know what we’re testing for or clearly understanding what we’re trying to accomplish. We can iterate so quickly that we increase our own frenzy and annoy or outright anger those around us. We can leverage empathy during the initial visioning stage, much like one would with the Design Thinking process, but then forget to bring in empathy for those we work with. There are a lot of other challenges we can bring to the table, but we can also remedy them with a bit of self-awareness and self-identification as a Catalyst, which was a huge reason for writing this book.
Organizational: The biggest hurdle we face here is related in that leaders don’t understand us or how to best support us, or sometimes even value the work we do. And the lack of psychological safety can be one of the biggest blockers. The “corporate immune response system” can kick in when we bring back our divergent ideas resulting in either the idea or the Catalyst themselves being attacked.
The consequential risks are many but include:
- Meaningful new ideas and change aren’t realized
- The Catalyst burns out and/or experiences trauma
It’s important to note, as we do in the book, that when Catalysts are self-aware and organizations provide at least minimal support, Catalysts are unstoppable positive change agents. They create billion-dollar businesses, they change how government operates, they improve corporate culture and results.
4) Can you list the 5 steps you recommend, from Vision to Tribe, to help a catalyst to anticipate these hurdles, and stay ‘charged’ with positive energy, and cross the chasm? Which is your favorite tip (for each of you)?
- Vision + Action + Iteration with intentionality;
- Orchestration & Breadcrumbing to bring others along;
- Rejuvenation (compassion & empathy);
- Articulating your value & strengths;
- Building your tribe!
Shannon: I am going to cheat by saying rejuvenation. Helping Catalysts maintain their energy is so important for every phase of the work they do. When a Catalyst’s energy tank is full, they can be more present, mindful and intentional at every stage of the process. When I work with Catalysts, I help them cultivate self-compassion because it is so important to staying afloat on the hard journey of being a Catalyst. I also help Catalysts cultivate empathy, because it helps reduce friction in the system (reducing burnout!) and makes them more effective overall. And finally, it’s a cheat, because for most Catalysts connecting to other Catalysts is a huge energy giver and form of rejuvenation. I love creating spaces like the Galaxy where Catalysts come together to supercharge and support each other.
Tracey: As a coach I feel taking the time to know your values, your strengths and your value is critical to confidently making change. The noise of imposter syndrome and the desire to please others can start to melt away once we know who we are and who we are not. This saves our energy for those moments that are most important to us. We become like Neo in the Matrix, able to navigate systems with greater ease than we ever imagined.
5) Catalyst, is it a born-character, or can you become a catalyst, like you embrace a marketing or finance or innovation profession?
We haven’t done the research, so we really don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that this is an innate way of being. It’s not really a “choice” for Catalysts. Other types of change agents may lean in for a little while, but Catalysts generally create change throughout their entire lives and in all aspects of their lives. Of course, most of the tools we discuss in the book would be beneficial for anyone trying to create change. But they are a lifeline for Catalysts.
6) What can change agents expect from the network Catalyst Constellations ? Can you describe your 8 weeks online experiential class to learn how to survive and thrive as a catalyst?
We created the Galaxy, our online global community, to provide a safe place for Catalysts to come and just be with other Catalysts. We hear on an almost weekly basis from someone “I thought it was just me! I thought I was the crazy one! I can’t believe what a relief it is to get to spend this frictionless time with others just like me!” The needs of Catalysts of course vary, so we have a variety of ways for Catalysts to engage in the community. We have an active community feed where members share articles, epiphanies, challenges, and wins. It’s a great place to crowd source ideas, commiserate, or get support.
Each month we have a different theme relevant to supporting Catalysts work well. We explore the monthly theme through live webinars, original content, weekly individual challenges, polls, and member spotlights.
We also have a number of different events for Catalysts to connect with each other and with other thought leaders: Speed Networking, Group Coaching, Writing for Catalysts, Entrepreneurship for Catalysts, Mini Mindfulness moments and more.
Essentials for Catalysts:
We created Essentials for Catalysts as companion for the book. You don’t have to read the book ahead of time, but we walk you the tools in the book and take the time to apply them to whatever you are manifesting in the world right now.
Its 8-week online experiential course helps you more successfully achieve your visions while minimizing the personal toll creating change can take. You’ll clarify your identity as a Catalyst. You’ll practice skills to support you through the entire change cycle – vision setting through implementation. You’ll connect with other Catalysts facing similar challenges in a safe space where you can troubleshoot together.
Each week there’s a 90-minute live instruction and peer coaching along with an optional 60-minute Group Coaching session.
This class teaches you how to move fast without leaving others behind. You’ll learn how to break shit with more intentionality. And you’ll learn how to more successfully create change, while minimizing burnout.
Sessions begin in January 2021. Learn more here. Enjoy early bird pricing through December 8, 2020.
7) Last question, how do catalysts and leaders intersect? In other words, what are the commonalities and differences?
Catalysts are everywhere. They are Individual Contributors, Executives, Entrepreneurs, Solopreneurs. In our book many of the individual Catalysts we highlight are leaders – C-Levels, VPs, Directors, Founders. When Catalysts learn how to self-regulate and internalize many of the tools that we outline in the book, they can make fantastic leaders. They bring high EQ, vision, results, and the ability to inspire others. Our hope is that organizations will increasingly understand the value of Catalysts and invest in their development, because we need Catalyst leaders now more than ever.