04/30/2013 10:45 am ET Updated Jun 30, 2013

198 Ways To Change The World


If you had the chance, would you change the world? Of course you would! I didn't say "save" it, I said change it. And we all want to do that - either by ending something that distresses us, or by realizing our dreams of something better.

And the great news is that we are changing things already. Because, at any given moment, you are doing this, instead of that. You are voting in the perpetual, rolling election of The Way Things Should Be.

Don't believe me? Well, imagine a powerful king. What makes him powerful? It's not the big crown, or the golden throne. It's the people around him, flat on their faces. If they got up and turned their backs to do something different, the same king, without doing anything different, would no longer be powerful. In other words, power is given by the people over whom it's exercised. That king is a great metaphor for the status quo. If we don't like the way things are, we can get up of our faces and change them.

But how?

Researching my book How To Change The World, I was thrilled to discover the work of the Boston-based political scientist Gene Sharp. He's spent decades studying the amazing effectiveness of non-violent political action, throughout history and around the world, and drawn up a list of precisely 198 ways to make change.

Sharp is one of America's great unsung heroes: his writings underpinned the revolutions in Eastern Europe, and the Arab Spring, and they have relevance to any situation where people want change.

Broadly speaking, Sharp's 198 actions divide into three types: drawing attention to an issue, refusing to have anything to do with the thing you object to, and creating a better alternative.

Each type can be easy or difficult, depending on circumstances. To take the first category: you could easily draw attention to an issue by "liking" something on Facebook. Or you could risk your life, as the White Rose Group did in Nazi Germany, by printing and circulating papers calling for resistance.

In the second category: you could spark a bus boycott that will lead to desegregation, as Rosa Parks did, or you could just stop using sarcasm at work, thereby helping others to stop too. (Styles of interaction are contagious.)

As for creating a better alternative - well that can be big or small too. But I'm not going to say what you could do, because deep down, I suspect that you know already what needs your attention.

Changing the world doesn't have to mean changing the whole world. Just change your world. That's what all the great change makers did, to begin with. If others like what you're doing, you can be sure they will start to follow.

John-Paul Flintoff is the author of (most recently) How To Change The World. (His TED talk on the subject can be seen here)