“How to Change the World” takes as its modest premise the idea that everyone is capable of creating massive, global change — if only we start small and set manageable goals. It’s just like quitting smoking! The book’s author, British journalist and life coach John-Paul Flintoff, has some experience in this area: for his last book, “Sew Your Own,” he learned to make all his own clothes. This allowed him to opt out of the unethical labor practices of the big clothing companies, and also gave him something to do with an old sewing machine. He reports that shirts are his favorite things to make. “How to Change the World” is different from “Sew Your Own” in that it doesn’t offer a roadmap for a particular kind of change — instead, Flintoff invites us to imagine what kinds of change we’d like to make, and suggests some ways to go about it.
For example, Flintoff tells a story about how he got very worried about global warming and decided the only solution was for everyone to grow their own produce. It wasn’t enough to just change his own habits — everyone would need to pitch in to make a dent in carbon consumption. He wanted to start with the people living in his section of London, but rather than harangue his neighbors, Flintoff devised a plan. First, around harvest time, he brought an armload of ripe tomatoes around to his neighbors’ doors, explaining he couldn’t possibly eat all the fruit he had grown. They accepted gladly. Phase I, Buttering Up, was a success. The next spring, he brought around tomato seedlings to the same neighbors. He had some cover story about having planted too many, and asked if they would be interested in growing their own tomatoes this year. Remembering the good tomatoes from last year, most accepted the plant. He had essentially tricked his neighborhood into growing its own tomatoes.
Devious? Maybe. Effective? In Flintoff’s case, yes. Although Flintoff doesn’t advise trickery in every case, he has some ideas about how to convince others to join in your righteous mission — including, paradoxically, offering them a gracious way out. “People do like to give advice or help,” he said. “The only time they don’t feel that happy is if they feel cornered.”