Book by John-Paul Flintoff
Review by Veronica Wilson
First and Second Year Advising
Loyola University Chicago

Major turning points in history have more to do with ordinary, everyday people than the notable figures whose names grace the pages of history books. While this may sound like a bold assertion, John-Paul Flintoff, in How to Change the World (2013), stresses that small actions by ordinary people are what has, and what will continue to, positively change the world. Flintoff begins with examples to support this perspective, ranging from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the end of Nazi Germany. The author takes the reader through a step-by-step reflective process to arrive at a place in which changing the world would seem not only a possible, but a probable outcome. With so many students arriving at college and university campuses with a strong social conscience, this quick read is a handy resource both for students and for academic advisors. 

Serving as invitation and guide, the book is based on this premise, “We need only to believe that something is seriously wrong … and to resolve that we are not willing to put up with it any longer” (Flintoff, 2013, p. 20). For the would-be world-changer who is unsure what change to enact, Flintoff leads the reader through a series of questions, including: What do I want to do? What do I think of as a good life? Who am I? What do I enjoy? and When have I felt alive? Flintoff believes, “To change the world is to have a sense of purpose, and that’s something we can all cultivate” (p. 37). Without taking the time to identify and acknowledge problems in tandem with a personal sense of purpose, the requisite actions lack appropriate focus to yield enduring change. 

Once purpose is cultivated, the steps become action-oriented. Flintoff encourages the reader to draw in other ordinary people rather than to rely on policies or laws to do the work. Several examples show that laws are not responsible for changed attitudes and behaviors; in fact, the examples demonstrate that the converse is true: changed attitudes and behaviors instigate changes in policies and laws. To elicit sustainable support from others, Flintoff cautions the aspiring change agent against using despair, shame, and dehumanization tactics. Instead, he suggests making issues appealing and fun; coming from a place of compassion and empathy; and striving to promote self-agency.

Academic advisors may find personal and professional applications. As helping professionals, many advisors are committed to making the world a better place. Although some may contend that this goal is achieved through meaningful interactions with students, it would be hard to read this book and not reflect on what more might be done. The breadth of examples is sure to inspire ideas. Examples contextualize a step-by-step process, breaking down lofty ideas into achievable goals. Further, advisors may be better equipped to nurture students’ dreams, as well as to inspire dreams that have not yet been born in students who, perhaps through no fault of their own, have never imagined that they could be a person capable of enacting great change in this world. 

Overall, this was an easy and inspirational read. Expecting a more rational text, I was unprepared for the level of self-reflection required to get the most out of the short book. Although students could benefit from the brevity, they rarely have time for non-required reading. Additionally, students with a pragmatic approach to education may view passion as an unworthy pursuit. Yet, this text could be a tool used to nudge students to consider the interaction among choice of major, career, passion, and purpose. 

How to Change the World. (2012). Book by John-Paul Flintoff. Review by Veronica Wilson. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 177 pp. $16.00, (paperback), ISBN # 978-1-250-03067-2,
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