Book Excerpt: The Catalyst’s Guide to Working Well

By Lilly Milman |  October 13, 2020

Innovators are supposed to be quick on their feet, always looking to the future, and ready to pivot at any moment. They may be entrepreneurial, or intrapreneurial. A common trait is being interested in making change. But there’s a certain type of innovator, according to Tracey Lovejoy and Shannon Lucas, that is different from the rest: A Catalyst.

Their new book, Move Fast. Break Shit. Burn Out.: The Catalyst’s Guide to Working Well, is about this group of people, who they define as “those who have a deep-rooted need to create positive change.” 

“Among Catalysts, there is an unmet need to be seen and valued for who we are and how we show up in the world. We know because we feel it too,” they write in the introduction of the book. “We move so fast that we lose people. We can break shit without intentionality. And all of that can lead to burnout — frequently.”

Lovejoy — a former UX Manager, Ethnographer, and Strategist at Microsoft — and Lucas — former Executive Vice President and Head of the Emerging Business Unit at Ericsson — are the Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of Catalyst Constellations, a consultancy that supports Catalyst thinkers. Their work at Catalyst Constellations forms the foundation of the book.

Because of their need to create change — and do it quickly — Catalysts tend to burn out quickly and struggle to find like-minded individuals and managers within their respective companies, they write. 

In order for a Catalyst to feel self-empowered, one must know how to manage themselves and their time properly. This is where Lovejoy and Lucas come in.  

In this exclusive excerpt from Move Fast. Break Shit. Burn Out., out on October 13, Lovejoy and Lucas recount their own journeys in realizing that they were Catalysts, and that they needed help.

Finding My People: Tracey Lovejoy

After I left my job in research, leadership, and in-house coaching at Microsoft, I decided to become a leadership consultant. … When I analyzed the patterns of my former favorite clients year over year, the data that emerged blew my mind. … 

The attributes I found didn’t match any population I could think of. And I loved working with them, not just because they showed up well and were open to change, but because I could relate to them on a deeper level…

  • They set audacious goals in their personal and work life.

  • Many goals they set are about making positive change in the world around them.

  • When they share those goals, they are scared to say them out loud. They know they were huge goals, and they can’t seem to help themselves.

  • By the next time we speak, they often can’t remember the goals, because they’ve already been integrated into their lives.

Around that time, I met with a client at the old Tully’s down at the beach, and they shared a revelation: “I’m a Catalyst. I get things started, and I get things done.”

Tracey Lovejoy

Neon signs flashed in my head: that was it! That was the descriptor for my people.

I was eager to learn more, so I set up a few interviews with existing clients. At first, I was asking questions to help me develop my service offering, but by the second interview I realized I was hearing information that I had never heard before. … That led me to launch a series of in-depth qualitative interviews across 2016 that took me on a journey of discovery.

And while the data collection itself was a journey of expectation, emotion, and new realizations, as soon as I started posting about my findings, more people reached out. They told me they felt as if I were talking directly to them. … I heard even more stories of pain and loneliness — of having always felt weird, and of how empowering the research felt for them.

We still hear this kind of feedback, over and over, to this day. … We estimate Catalysts to be somewhere between 5 and 11 percent of the workforce. …

Catalysts aren’t just parts of the innovation machine that can be replaced once they wear out, though that is certainly how they were treated during many of my years at Microsoft. Too often, organizations replace inconvenient, disruptive, out-of-the-box changemakers with people who are younger or hungrier or more malleable to the existing systems.

No, taken care of well, Catalysts only get better…at creating positive change.

Finding Myself: Shannon Lucas

Shannon Lucas

I have always felt different. …

I have always moved through the world thinking “What’s the next problem and how do I fix it?” And more than that, “Who can help me amplify this for maximum impact?” … 

My first sigh of relief came with an innovation role at Vodafone. It felt life-changing — like there was finally a role for me.

Though it wasn’t without its challenges, it was my dream job. …

While others in my team seemed to be able to leave work at the office, I couldn’t create any distance at all. Failure on the job felt personal. Criticism of my work felt like criticism of me. If my ideas were bad, then I must be bad. Each setback sent me deeper into burnout… I lacked a sense of community outside of my core group who really understood my challenges, both professionally and personally. Work became a drain instead of a source of energy.

My health suffered. My relationships suffered. And I had no idea why.

As I traveled all over the world running innovation workshops … I kept an eye out for other like minded people, looking for leaders in similar roles as mine. The struggle of being a highly motivated innovator only grew, and I craved a support group; a safe space where others like me could share our challenges, laugh about the craziness, and cry at the hard battles fought and lost … 

It wasn’t until Tracey interviewed me as part of her Catalyst data collection that I finally got it. She had a name for me — a description that finally made everything make sense. And she didn’t just help me self-identify — she helped me understand my process and find tools that would help me thrive. And not just me — the people in my network that I could now label appropriately as Catalysts stood out…and our biggest shared problem was burnout.

I had already contemplated hosting a weekend getaway for the Salon to rejuvenate. … So in typical Catalyst fashion, I immediately decided to create a space for us, and Tracey was on board. There on the coast of Northern California … Catalyst Constellations was born.