In chemical and physical terms, a catalyst is something that initiates or accelerates a change in a system or reaction without being changed itself. In human terms it really isn’t that much different. Catalysts cause and speed change. If you want change or need a recognized change to happen faster, seek a human catalyst.
The only time catalysts become quiet or do nothing is either when the system has reached a place of balance and equilibrium or when the system is not ready for change. From a chemical or physical perspective in those scenarios catalysts are inert, in that they just kind of hang out and do nothing until the system either changes or dissolves into oblivion. In other words, they are irrelevant. In business, however, systems are rarely at a complete balance or equilibrium. But unlike chemical or physical reaction, the people in an organization have a threshold for change. So even when change is necessary, people are hesitant to engage in it due simply to fatigue or stress. It’s just not ready for more change.
Humans, unlike their chemical counterparts, are meaning seeking beings, and catalysts are no exception. In fact, they may be the exaggeration of this principle. People do not like being irrelevant. Human catalysts seek change. It is their purpose, their reason for being – to cause or speed change. When an organization is either tired or not ready for more change, the catalyst becomes irrelevant. A fundamental need of most human beings is to feel as though they matter, that they are relevant. It is this drive that creates either two scenarios for a human catalyst: they either cause disruption so as to create a necessary change that makes them relevant, or they seek another system that IS ready for change.
When the catalyst gets louder, they are trying to create the need for change. When they get quiet, they are likely looking for a new system. Human catalysts are hugely important in organizations as they can facilitate and accelerate changes that are necessary and welcomed. Without a tempered approach and a great deal of patience, catalysts can also be disruptive when the organization isn’t quite ready for change. And while creating noise may give them a sense of purpose for a while, the organization will typically cast them off if they become too loud. When human catalysts get quiet, however, you should probably know they are looking to leave.
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