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Catalysts for Change

Posted by Ken Klaus on January 24, 2011

Change most frequently happens for a reason.  Transformation is intentional.  The natural adaptations that take place over tens of thousands of years are driven by something external to the organism – new predators, alterations in the climate, dwindling sources of food – which compel a change and ensure the plant or animal can not only survive, but thrive.  The same is true in chemistry, where the application of a catalyst – reagents[1] of change – can be used to enhance or even accelerate transformation.  Agents that hasten a reaction are called positive catalysts; while those that hinder or block changes are called inhibitors.  In addition other substances can be used in combination with a catalyst to either promote or poison its effectiveness.[2]

Though adaptation and survival are common reasons for change, there are occasions when change is driven not by some external force, but from within – by choice.  We choose to adapt, not because we have to, but because we want to.  And more often than not our choices are fueled and energized by a catalyst – a force that accelerates our will and gets us moving.  The most common catalyst for making a change, I think, is failure.  But almost universally failure is perceived as a negative, something to be avoided, a source of shame and regret.  We laud success and shun those who fail.  We link our value as employees and individuals directly to our successes or to our failures.  But success and failure are two sides of the same coin.  We cannot have one without the other.  To succeed we must fail – at least some of the time.  This means failure too has value; we need to fail if we ever hope to succeed.

The gift of failure is the opportunity to make a change.  As a catalyst for change, failure is unique because its transformative properties are only revealed when we make a choice – whether to persist along the same path until we succeed or to look for a new path because the one we are traveling has proven to be a dead-end.  Transformation – sustained, meaningful change – must begin with a choice.  If we fail and do nothing, then the opportunity for change is lost.  The catalytic power inherent in all failure can only be realized through the application of choice.

But choosing is only the first step, the spark that ignites the catalyst.  Change – true transformation – involves far more than just decision-making.  It requires risk, courage, honesty and perseverance.  Bigger, more important changes, may also call for promoters – like optimism, inspiration and collaboration – to increase the power of our actions.  And we must also be careful not to introduce inhibitors or poisons, like doubt, distraction and perfectionism.  Over the coming weeks I want to explore the reagents of change – risk, courage, and honesty – as well as the things that help to promote, inhibit and poison our efforts to change.  But as a starting point I would like to suggest that we must first begin to see failure not as the opposite of success, but as an opportunity for change.  Too often failure is used as a weapon, to demoralize and devalue, and we wield this truncheon against others and ourselves alike.  But we are worth so much more than the sum of our accomplishments; and even when we fail our value is never diminished.  Failure may be the end of an endeavor, or it may be the next step on the path to success.  The choice is ours.

[1] In organic chemistry, reagents are compounds or mixtures, usually composed of inorganic or small organic molecules that are used to affect a transformation on an organic substrate.  Wikipedia, Reagent.

[2] Catalysis is the change in rate of a chemical reaction due to the participation of a substance called a catalyst. Unlike other reagents that participate in the chemical reaction, a catalyst is not consumed by the reaction itself. Catalysts that speed the reaction are called positive catalysts. Substances that interact with catalysts to slow the reaction are called inhibitors (or negative catalysts). Substances that increase the activity of catalysts are called promoters, and substances that deactivate catalysts are called catalytic poisons.  Wikipedia, Catalysis

2 Responses to “Catalysts for Change”

  1. […] Catalysts for Change […]

  2. […] Thanks for sticking with me.  We’ve already covered the necessity of choice as well as the catalysts and essential elements that ignite and fuel the transformation process.  Previously we also noted […]

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