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In human chemistry, a human catalyst is a person who acts as a catalyst to facilitate a human chemical reaction or system process, without themselves being consumed in the reaction. In 1948, human chemist Thomas Dreier devoted an entire chapter, entitled “The Business Executive as a Catalyst”, to the argument that: [1]

“Acting as a human catalyst is the essence of the executive’s job.”

In basing his chapter, Dreier quotes oil company executive Byrle Osborn, who when asked what his function is, replied "I hire all the engineers, lawyers, clerks, salesman and accountants that I need. They do the work. But I act as a sort of catalyst to make them work together smoothly. Every bit of friction costs money. I eliminate the friction."

In 1914, American chemical engineer William Fairburn defined certain people as ‘catalysts’ facilitating other human chemical reactions, but not themselves being consumed. [2]

In terms of project chemistry, in 1987 American information systems consultant Tom DeMarco discusses the concept of the people, who don’t seem to add anything tangible to a project, as in not being a great developer, good tester, etc., can acting as catalysts in team projects, helping the projects to jell. In his own words: [3]

“The catalyst is important because the project is always in a state of flux. Someone who can help a project jell is worth two people who just do work.”

In 1992 textbook Elements of Chemical Reaction Engineering, American chemical engineer Scott Fogler defines a human catalyst as such: [4]

“A catalyst is a substance that affects the rate of a reaction but emerges from the process unchanged. A man inciting a mob to riot and then ducking out before the tanks roll in can be regarded as a catalyst.”

1. Dreier, Thomas. (1948). We Human Chemicals: the Knack of Getting Along with Everybody (“The Business Executive as a Catalyst”, pgs. 37-41). Updegraff Press.
2. Fairburn, William Armstrong. (1914). Human Chemistry. The Nation Valley Press, Inc.
3. DeMarco, Tom and Lister, Timothy. (1987). Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Catalysts, pgs. 10-11). Dorset House Pub.
4. (a) Fogler, H. Scott. (1992). Elements of Chemical Reaction Engineering (catalyst, pg. 242). Prentice Hall.
(b) Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume One) (Fogler, human catalyst, pg. 94). (preview), (Google books). Morrisville, NC: LuLu.

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