How to Change Your Life in 7 Steps - John Bird
How to ChangeThis is the second review of a book in the ‘Quick Reads’ series designed to encourage us to read more and provides an interesting companion and contrast to Screw it, Lets do it, by Richard Branson.

In many ways it deals with the same issue of helping people to recognise that they can achieve more with their lives. The differences in approach reflect the different starting points of Richard’s and James’ lives. Whereas Richard Branson’s childhood provides a host of positive role models in his parents, grandparents and relatives that included Sir Peter Scott the naturalist and descendants such as Scott of the Antarctic, John’s role models more often provided examples of what not to do. In particular he speaks of his abusive father’s attacks on his mother.

What is interesting is that given their quite different start points, each describes a very similar set of required characteristics, though they arrived at them by quite different routes.

John speaks quite candidly about his early life much of it spent homeless and being offensive, violent and distinctly un-likeable. He talks of his clashes with the law and reflects on key decision points that changed his life. His journey is no less remarkable than that of Richard Branson having climbed from the position of self confessed victim, homeless and on the streets, to creating ‘The Big Issue’ magazine to be sold by the homeless as a way of helping them improve their lives.

The idea of the magazine and the use of what he describes as ‘the most unreliable workforce on the planet’ is so preposterous that Richard Branson would be proud of it. He would be equally proud of its remarkable success and the impact it has had on helping the homeless in ways that the experts said were impossible. His achievements have been recognised through awards by the United Nations and many others.

In describing the 7 steps of the title John candidly draws on his background, the successes and the mistakes he has made in his early life and in creating ‘The Big Issue.’ It is a true display of his commitment to Step 3, ‘Be truthful to yourself and others.’

For those who see Richard Branson’s account describing something they couldn’t dream of emulating, John’s description is much more down to earth. He describes his seven steps, not to climb up to the boardroom, but to climb out of the gutter.

The steps themselves are not rocket science, nor are they different at heart from those described by Richard, but like many simple things, they are most easily overlooked.

  • Take a first step, however small
  • Stop thinking like a victim
  • Be true to yourself and others
  • Stop knocking everyone else
  • Think for yourself
  • Make mistakes
  • Be your own leader
  • Again this is an accessible book that won’t spend its time sitting unread on your bookshelf as you will probably read it in an evening. I’m sure it will give you at least one useful new thought, and perhaps inspire you to action. What more can you ask of a book.

Steve Unwin
December 14 2006