Catalytic Mechanism to Drive a Desired Outcome

One of my favorite learnings is the power of the catalytic mechanism to drive a desired outcome. Jim Collins popularized it decades ago writing:

Catalytic mechanisms are the crucial link between objectives and performance; they are a galvanizing, nonbureaucratic means to turn one into the other. Put another way, catalytic mechanisms are to visions what the central elements of the U.S. Constitution are to the Declaration of Independence—devices that translate lofty aspirations into concrete reality.

Turning Goals into Results by Jim Collins

In everyday life, the most common ones we see are things like “The meal is free if you’re not given a receipt” and “Money back guarantee if you’re not 100% satisfied.” In the first example, the desired outcome is that every order is entered into the cash register and rung up so that the payment isn’t stolen. In the second example, it’s an effort to ensure customers are happy such that they are both treated well and more inclined to speak up if something wasn’t right. By doing one thing, you’re increasing the chances that a different, more important thing happens.

Here are a few questions startups should ask:

  • What is the desired outcome?
  • What’s necessary to achieve that outcome?
  • How can I catalyze or incentivize the opposing action or actor to help achieve the desired outcome?
  • What are other ways to align adjacent pieces to help with the desired outcome?

Simply put: what is it that you want to happen and what other behavior can you influence to achieve it?

Catalytic mechanisms are a powerful tool entrepreneurs should incorporate into their startups. While some can seem obvious, take the time to think through how you can use catalytic mechanisms to help achieve your goals.

One thought on “Catalytic Mechanism to Drive a Desired Outcome

  1. Dave, you are spot on with your comments about catalysts. My colleagues and I recently developed a theory of complex adaptive systems (which almost everything is) and the application of this theory to practical cases. A basic foundation of this new approach to complex systems is the concept of dynamics as catalysts for actions in systems.

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