The directed activation of carbon-hydrogen bonds (C-H) is important in the development of synthetically useful reactions, owing to the proximity-induced reactivity and selectivity that is enabled by coordinating functional groups. Palladium-catalysed non-directed C-H activation could potentially enable further useful reactions, because it can reach more distant sites and be applied to substrates that do not contain appropriate directing groups; however, its development has faced substantial challenges associated with the lack of sufficiently active palladium catalysts. Currently used palladium catalysts are reactive only with electron-rich arenes, unless an excess of arene is used, which limits synthetic applications. Here we report a 2-pyridone ligand that binds to palladium and accelerates non-directed C-H functionalization with arene as the limiting reagent. This protocol is compatible with a broad range of aromatic substrates and we demonstrate direct functionalization of advanced synthetic intermediates, drug molecules and natural products that cannot be used in excessive quantities. We also developed C-H olefination and carboxylation protocols, demonstrating the applicability of our methodology to other transformations. The site selectivity in these transformations is governed by a combination of steric and electronic effects, with the pyridone ligand enhancing the influence of sterics on the selectivity, thus providing complementary selectivity to directed C-H functionalization.