What does it take to be the Catalyst for Change in a business?

What does it take to be the Catalyst for Change in a business?

It’s a question that I’m often asked. And, it’s an important one. Why? Well, it’s a commonly held belief that the three key components to any successful and sustained business growth are Culture, the Catalyst and the Capability to do so. Where any of these components are not optimised, it’s almost impossible to shift an organisation at all.

In business, an effective Catalyst is something that means you need less energy to change or change direction. Most energy is expelled trying to begin the shift and to change the trajectory of where we’re going. So, if we can be the catalyst in our organisation, we can try to use less energy to create that shift.

Here’s the thing. Catalysing change requires us to get out of our comfort zone and is often uncomfortable.This is because the ‘real magic’ happens just outside of our comfort zone. To be an effective Catalyst, we need the capability to go where we’ve not been before and to think in new ways.

Alvin Toffler, author of ‘The Third Wave’, talks about the illiterate of the 21st Century being those that cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. Being willing to shift our thinking enables us to create the future we seek. How we get ourselves here can be determined by the path we choose: self-led learning or engaging with those who can teach us the tools we need.

What’s A Catalyst Mindset?

Effective Catalysts are often multifaceted in their determination and their abilities. They are fundamentally able to connect with a vision of how the future might be. Some might individually drive things forward whilst others might have the ability to bring a group of people along with them.The most powerful are the ones that can do both!

Being driven, determined, having real clarity and being considered are also strong Catalyst traits. When it comes to being considered, I often relate to the concept of Systems Thinking. You’re always part of a wider system. Everything is interconnected. Thinking this way means we can always consider what the leverage points within that system are and how we can have the most influence.

Are you the Catalyst? Can you be?

Let me reassure you here. Everyone has the capacity to change who they are, it’s my true belief. Understand that personality isn’t permanent. Adopting the characteristics of a good catalyst leader is perfectly achievable. It’s about recognising who you are now and where you need to evolve as a leader.

Look at who you are. Look at how you operate.

As leaders, we often find our most used or strongest skill is our most overused skill. Starting to reflect on when is a good time to use these skills and traits and when we need to apply some different tools is an essential part of evolving as an effective Catalyst. What would have happened in the past if we had employed the polar opposite traits? Would that have supported a better outcome?

New skills can be learnt depending on what our current skill set is versus what our needs are. Being willing to acknowledge that the person that got us to where we are might not be the person that will get the business to where you want it to go is important. In the film RocketMan, one of the roadies says, ‘You’ve got to kill the person you were going to be to become the person you want to be’. This really resonates with me (as I’ve had to do this a number of times in my journey!).

Becoming the Catalyst is key to driving successful business growth. Are you that person? What journey do you need to go on to become who you need to be? What will that journey look like?

If you are ready to begin the path of the Catalyst, then please get in touch. I’d love to help you on the next stage of your journey.


If you haven’t already, check out my Case Study for Business leaders @ https://go.jamespotten.com/




I often hear Business Leaders express frustration that their team doesn’t have the same drive as they used to in the good ol’ days! Trying to keep some of the magic from the original company culture for scale-up business is tough and as you add more people it’s undoubtedly going to change as new people means new shared values.

Getting recruitment right is so important. Whenever a new person is added to the team, you are basically saying to the company, this is what the new ‘good’ looks like and this is where the business is going (whether you intended to or not)! I’ll talk in detail how to make existing teams feel valued shortly.

Business leaders solve this through different ways, one of the most famous being Jeff Bozos of Amazon talking about it always being ‘Day 1’, to keep the team hungry for innovation, as once it’s day 2 they will be beaten. This is often delivered in a letter each year or quarter to the team to paint a picture of the future and why the company is aspiring to achieve great things. Hopefully they also take the time to celebrate success and have Champaign moments.

The reality in your organisation is likely to be new people = new behaviours and not only are you fighting an ever-changing landscape externally but now you have the same internally and it feels like the originals spark is eroded. When companies lose their way, they have been able to get back on track by returning to the founder’s original vision and values. The best-known case of this is with Steve Jobs and Apple in the 90s when Apple bought NeXT and Job became an advisor to his former company, the rest is history.

There are practical things that you can do, such as always being involved in the hiring process, even if it’s just a zoom call towards the end of the process so you check that new team members are the right people for where you’re going but also where you’ve come from.

It’s also important not to skimp and this is something that I found hard in the early days because you don’t have the money. Sometimes you will interview and feel that they may move on, as they are too good but it’s much better to hire a good person for a year than someone that doesn’t perform for two! Good people can have 100x the impact to the success of your organisation whereas the wrong hire can reverse the successes you’ve had to date (& sabotage company culture).

Hiring the wrong person can also take up so much of your time. We’ve all made these mistakes and you know the challenge of removing people is quite disruptive (even if your country allows you to do this more easily). I’ve also never been in a situation where I’ve extended a probation and that employee ever really work out. Your intuition is almost always right but it needs to be backed up with performance data which again, takes time to gather & build a position.

So some practical exercises that you can do with your existing team, so they feel included. One that’s really important is to define what good culture looks like. You have to be really explicit with your team not implicit so defining this together is the best way to get buy-in as follows: –
• As a team, with lots of post-its (or on a collaborative platform like Miro if virtually)
• Draw the rugby goal posts (which have more space above the line) and ask the team to write on their post-its what above the line or below the line behaviour looks like.
• They then get the team to talk through their post-its as they put them up either above or below depending on the behaviour
• Get this typed up and printed off / placed on the intranet, so others can refer to this.

The beauty of this is it becomes self-regulating and you give the team permission to challenge below the line behaviour and praise above the line. Great culture is what the team do when you are not there (which is most of the time during these covid times).

Hiring high-performing senior members of the team essential, irrelevant of whether you have a hierarchical or self-organising team, as can be seen in Figure 1 and 2 below. The underperformance (red) will permeate through your team (affected pink team members).

When to hire and ‘grasping the nettle’ (training I’ve shared in amplified.me) when removing underperformers are entire subjects of their own. I often hear ‘hire when it hurts’, or ‘hire slow, fire fast’. In both cases, I’d suggest you need to know your business cycles, how long does a sale take to be delivered, does it need additional resource and how long would it take to train someone up. Alex Reilley from Loungers talks about how he and his Co-Founders would ‘shed skin’ until they had enough to make a new person, then hire (effectively finding enough tasks to turn into a whole role they could package up and delegate to a new team member).

So hopefully this is giving you some initial ideas of how to try to retain your company culture during rapid growth.

If you want to see more about what I believe could help you sustainably scale your business, please watch this short case study I recorded – go.jamespotten.com 



I felt compelled in these Covid times to get these words out into the world. When there are so many challenges mounting on our own doorstep in the western world, the needs of those in faraway lands gets drowned out. However, these forgotten communities require more support than ever. I’d like to highlight the great work of Deki.

It was Deki’s 10th anniversary last year and in that time, Deki has changed the lives of over 60,000 people. As Chair of Deki over the last five years we’ve seen some highs & lows and at times we have struggled to get the wider message of the mission to give people in Sub-Saharan Africa opportunity beyond poverty. Getting airtime for this message is now exponentially harder.

Deki was started by Vashti Seth, back in 2009 after her father’s death. She was inspired by her Dad sponsoring a child called Deki Dolkha in an orphanage founded by the Dalai Lama. Vashti went to visit Deki Dolkha in India and found that she was trapped in a cycle of poverty, reliant on the handouts. So Vashti created the Microfinance charity Deki to take a more holistic approach, providing loans to individuals like Deki Dolkha so they could work their way out of poverty. The charity focus became Africa and the first peer-to-peer lending platform in the UK was created, also enabling the lender to learn from the enterprising spirit of Deki entrepreneurs.

Our last field visit to Togo with the amazingly talented Deki team took place in November 2019. Our mission, to observe the work and build a deeper relationship with our Field Partner IADES and to measure the impact of the work they have been doing.

On the flight over to Togo we went via Accra, Ghana and I sat next to Peter, a Ghanaian who lives in London. His sage advice was ‘don’t think you will be able to solve all the problems, you have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk’ (…so wise. He’d only had to ‘listen’ to me for 4 hours!).

Lome, the capital city of Togo was bustling and the surrounding communities welcoming. Each time we arrived at a village, they would sing a welcome song in a large circle, we’d have a dance and then a lesson would take place. Song is a powerful communication tool in these communities and they carry important messages through the medium of songs such as saving money for a rainy day!

Some of the key challenges we heard during our community meetings were:-
– 1. Patriarchy/Polygamy – in Togo men can have multiple wives. There is also very little family planning, thus a man with three wives can have many children with each wife and not be able to afford to contribute to their upbringing (financially or time)
– 2. Health – there weren’t too many signs of malnutrition but if someone falls ill in the family, it is often the mother that takes out a loan to fund the treatment (see point 1)
– 3. Education – the government fund primary school but not secondary school. Many of the girls were not educated beyond primary school (parents have to decide which children they send to secondary and the boys are usually chosen). With little family planning, girls in their teens end up becoming mothers and the cycle goes round again and again (see point 1)

Changing the patriarchal society is a huge challenge but via our theory of change model we believe through education (SDG4) and providing the tools for self-determination, we can help lower the impact of extreme poverty (SDG1). I often refer to this diagram below to remind me of the steps needed to shift from equality, to equity to systemic change.

Change on this level requires government intervention but we focus our support through the grass roots and working with our Field Partners. We have been very fortunate to find Christian and his team at IADES who spend many hours with communities and their group leaders to help educate the entrepreneurs (90% are women) before money is received.

Since 2009 the world has changed & even more so since 2019. Deki has now implemented donating to communities, not lending to individuals as it became all too apparent that keeping the money in the country with the Field Partners helped to reduce the time to re-lend (a significant issue, especially in planting season when there is a small window to buy the seeds and get them in the ground). This will help support more entrepreneurs and increased the number of lives changed overtime.

Deki has evolved and is now responding to the Covid crisis by working with IADES to re-think how lessons can take place in a socially distanced safe way (they can still teach songs at distance). Also, to help with the imminent health challenges IADES are offering a MicroInsurance product that funds the medical treatment of family members in the event of an illness.

A success story. We went to see the first ever chocolate maker in Togo called ChocoTogo in Lome, that was created by a Komi Agbokou a chocolatier trained in Italy. Working through a cooperative, ChocoTogo now export to global markets. Togo’s cacao growers had been helpless in the face of prices set by international buyers but Komi is helping to change this. Through Deki/IADES we have helped create lots of micro businesses but now need to help those businesses form cooperatives so they can find routes to market in the same way ChocoTogo have. We now have a dedicated Togolese team member helping to accelerate this process.

If you have the time, please do take a look at the amazing work of the team at Deki.org.uk and remember that no matter which horizon we live, we are all experiencing the challenges of Covid together.





Day one is over at Abundance360 2017. It reminded me of why I was fully hooked on the exponential journey, with loads of exciting new breakthroughs in tech, even in the last year.

We had an audience with Tony Robbins (life guru) & Steve Jurvetson (big dog Investor) on ‘what won’t change in the next 25 years’ Steve made a great point when he said ‘if we are gods, we better start acting like them’.Fair point although I think it’s more we like playing god. Peter D explained that there are 5 million truck and taxi driver jobs in the US that will be gone in the next 5 years. We currently don’t have the infrastructure for retraining and reallocating these people. It’s going to get messy. Making ‘America great again’ just got a whole lot harder. What struck me is how I connect so much with what Tony Robbins was saying about human behaviour struggling with the speed of technical change. We are unlikely to cope very well unless we also develop new ways of thinking. He explored our six key human needs and said the struggle up Maslow’s is very real and will continue to be so. His Six Human Needs model being our desire for: –1. Certainty vs 2. Uncertainty3. Significance vs 4. Belonging5. Growth and 6. Contribution(note 5 & 6 have an ‘and’ not ‘vs’ between them. Both can exist in harmony together. I’ll explore this more in a future post. So, here with some of the key takeaways from day 1: –- The rate of solar development is happening faster than expected. Coal is dead, long live PV (China have just cancelled the building of 104 coal plants)- Elon Musk says that ‘100 giga factories is enough to supply the whole world with batteries’. 1 down, 99 to go- Salk institute have actually been successful in reversing the signs of ageing – extended the lifespan of mice by 30% (does that mean we get a second mid-life crisis?).- Ehang single person drones. US company Lung Biotechnology have ordered 1000 drones for synthetic human organ delivery (not that synthetic organs exist yet. The drones are distracting their employees from making any breakthroughs).- [email protected] – it’s the Spotify for people who like to listen to tunes to get in their flow when working – all music is produced for it’s ability not to be remembered. Tay Tay’s entire collection is going on there.- In 2016 the four new elements were named. It’s really screwed that periodic table song.- Augmented Reality is going to completely change education, human interaction and how we watch Netflix. Finally, I went for my first ride in a Tesla. It was a Model X, and yes, we went in autopilot mode. It was ridiculously awesome. It just steers itself. This vehicle was at level 2 capacity (out of 5), which means there should always be a hand on the wheel. By the end of 2017, any Teslas manufactured since Dec 2016 will be able to go to level 5, which won’t need a steering wheel. It’s likely that legislation won’t go beyond level 4 in the near future, which means you can take your hands off the steering wheel. Elon was having a bit of fun naming his vehicles, having released the Model S & X, the next ‘Model 3’ was going to be the ‘Model E’, but Ford wouldn’t allow it. I’ll let you work out where Elon was going with that one.More to come on day 2. I’m off to try out multiplayer augmented reality ‘Call of Duty’. My sick bag is ready. James Potten Useful linkshttps://www.tonyrobbins.com/mind-meaning/do-you-need-to-feel-significant/ http://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/1/17/14294906/china-cancels-coal-plantshttps://twitter.com/jamespotten/status/825841217762062337http://www.salk.edu/news-release/turning-back-time-salk-scientists-reverse-signs-aging/https://www.engadget.com/2016/05/04/biotech-firm-wants-to-deliver-organs-using-a-passenger-drone/www.focusatwill.comhttps://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/12/01/its-official-4-new-elements-added-to-periodic-table-have-formal-names/?utm_term=.bc5bf5b593aahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgVQKCcfwnUAlso published on Medium.



Peter Diamandis is an inspirational visionary. He has run countless competitions to encourage human exploration (initially space). He thinks big, talks big & goes big (he does not go home).

He has written two popular books called ‘Abundance’ & ‘Bold’, on which his yearly Abundance360 event in LA is based.

He spends the first-day shifting people into an abundant and exponential mindset. I’ll add a video at the end if you want to learn more (it’s quite salesy but worth a gander).

My key take away from last year was ‘uber yourself before you get kodaked!’
So, what else did I learn?
– Blockchain – an amazing thing that will revolutionise our world, once someone works out how to explain what it is.
– PV panels – solar has been doubling in capacity & we now have storage solutions. We get 5000 times more energy from the sun than we currently use. It will be the cheapest source of energy in 7 years. We should definitely build more nuclear power stations.
– The power of crowds – none of us is as intelligent as all of us. Got a difficult question? Phone a friend.
– 3D Printing – no food in the cupboard, no worries. We’ve got printed shrimp for tea kids (see newwavefoods below)
– Brain/AI interface – our brains each have their own programming language. I think mine is coded in Double Dutch.
– Drone – yes they do don’t they. Amazon delivery within 10mins of ordering. The cat will be pleased. Thankfully a company called Zipline are using drone technology in Rwanda to deliver blood for doctors to give to mothers after childbirth in remote areas. It’s saving lives. A journey that used to take 6 hours delivery now takes 15 mins.
– The rise of the machines – at the point of Singularity (when machines become infinitely more intelligent than us), go kitesurfing and don’t come back.

Finally, I’m mad keen on VR/AR, other than I get travel sick using it (as a teenager I had to leave the room whenever my mates played Golden Eye). But I didn’t let that stop me. I did:-
– Two minutes on a VR flight simulator. White as a sheet, I thanked them for the ‘amazing experience’ & headed straight for the toilet.
– I spent twelve seconds balancing on a virtual cliff edge. It was supposed to last much longer. I jumped.
– I manage to withstand a whole minute of two girls having a pillow fight. I didn’t feel so bad after that one.

So I’m super excited about this years’ event. I will be keeping notes & get my ponderings up here. I just hope no one asks me to explain the Blockchain.

James Potten

Useful links
See the Peter Diamandis & Tony Robbins promotional video
Prawns/shrimps made from algae – newwavefoods.com