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Author Archive: "John-Paul Flintoff"

How to Change the World

I wanted to write another book. The previous two were regularly described as "fun" and "funny," but this one would be based around the ideas of Gene Sharp, the Boston-based academic once described as the "Clausewitz of non-violence." (Are you still with me? Hang in there for a second.)

Sharp's work inspired and underpinned the wave of peaceful revolutions that swept across Eastern and Central Europe in the late '80s. More recently, it helped to inspire the Arab Spring.

For a long time, I thought my book might be called 198 Ways to Bring Down a Dictator without Violence. But that wasn't to be.

I want to be very clear: I'm a huge fan of Sharp, whom I've had the privilege to meet. But I didn't get very far with my book idea. And perhaps that's because I don't personally want to bring down any dictators.

To say this is not to say that I think dictators are great or support them in any way. I know there are plenty out there, some of them real stinkers, but the truth is that they're far away from me and ...


Celebrating Your Triumphs

When was the last time you changed your behavior because of something somebody said? Don't think too hard — it was probably only a few minutes ago.

The things we say, and the way we say them, have an enormous effect on the people around us. Through communication we can draw people's attention to things that need fixing — and, if we choose our words with care, we can even fix things just by talking.

I'm not talking only about Fixing Big Things — as when leaders of warring nations sit together to make peace or union leaders meet with bosses to find a workable compromise. I'm talking also about the tiny, everyday interactions that can transform the way we think about the world — our world, if not necessarily the whole world.

One of the most significant exchanges I've had this week was with a friend, Catherine Stagg-Macey, who was about to leave for a party celebrating the end of her current employment and the start of a new life running her own business. I offered my congratulations. And, because we happened to be talking on the day ...


In Praise of Friends

If you think this post is going to be all about my book, forget it. Instead, I want to tell you about my friend Roman Krznaric, who is blogging here next week. We're being published together, on the same day. And I can assure you that Roman's book, How to Find Fulfilling Work, is really something.

But Roman can tell you about that himself. I want to tell you about Roman.

When I first heard his name, I visited Roman's website and found some great writing there, like this story which seems to me to owe a debt to the late, great Studs Terkel. I also listened to things like Roman's talk on Outrospection. To be honest, I was a bit daunted, but since then we've done a number of events together. I've found that, as well as having lots of interesting ideas himself, Roman is great at sparking ideas out of others.

Recently, we met together at an art gallery in London. We talked about the books we've just published, and about our new projects. Roman gave me new ways to think about ...


How Change Starts

I've been trying to make myself a better writer — and a better human being — as part of the growing Quantified Self movement.

When I was researching the mysterious process of how change happens for my book How to Change the World, I compared the broad, sweeping theories of political scientists such as Gene Sharp, the Boston-based advocate of nonviolent struggle, with the insights of the self-help industry. In both cases, change starts with observation — noticing what needs to change — followed by a clear declaration of that observation.

In the Quantified Self movement, substantially comprised of nerdy types, we use technology to get the measure of ourselves. Specifically, I use apps such as Lift, on my iPhone, enabling me to monitor progress by awarding myself a big green tick every time I complete one of the tasks that I want to turn into habit.

Lift offers various suggestions of habits you might like to consolidate, many of them already being actively pursued by other Lift users globally. When I joined up, I selected habits from a list of popular ones: drink more water (50,000+ participants). Easy ones: ...


We Can Be Heroes (Yes, You Too)

Recently, I was feeling stuck with a problem I couldn't resolve. So I asked Nelson Mandela for advice.

I don't need to tell you the details, because the advice was given in strict confidence. But I strongly recommend that if you too get stuck you try getting in touch with Nelson yourself.

And if Nelson can't help, ask somebody else. Oprah Winfrey, perhaps. Or Genghis Khan. Or Lord Byron. Anybody you like, really.

As should be obvious by now, you don't absolutely need to ask the real Nelson Mandela, because he may never get back to you . But you can ask the version of him who is available to you at any time, in your head. Or your own private version of Oprah, Genghis, or the author of Don Juan.

We all have heroes, though we might not use that word to describe the people we admire. Over time, they may change. (I no longer bow down, as I did when I was a boy, before the very idea of certain sportsmen.) In each case, we admire them for particular qualities — not for the entire, flawed person that they ...


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