It was 40 years ago that “Cracklin’ Rosie” got on board for Neil Diamond and Diana Ross learned there “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” It’s also when futurist Alvin Toffler introduced us to the concepts of information overload, prosumerism and a warning that a combination of social and technological changes will bring us into a “Future Shock.”
As I write this, Alvin Toffler and his equally brilliant wife and collaborator, Heidi, are reported to be at a private club in the Washington, D.C. area at a retirement party of sorts. You have to ask who goes to a retirement party for the people who advise nations and multinational corporations how to plan for the future of the world.
I had the good fortune to meet them both briefly after a knowledge management conference some years ago. What I remember most about my meeting with the Tofflers is they have a way of breaking complex questions into incredibly simplistic concepts – without diminishing the importance of the question. This is what made “Future Shock” such a big hit as we were leaving the decade of the 60’s, still shaken by the Kennedy assassinations.
“The Third Wave” took the development of economies, behaviors, technology, culture and business to a place that expanded the ideas of “Future Shock” in a very provocative and entertaining way. Let it be known, I find these types of books terribly boring, but there were some laugh out loud parts – and other parts that forced you to put the book down, just to think. They transformed seemingly distant content into content that becomes very relevant and very personal.
“Forty years ago, Alvin and Heidi Toffler recognized that change was rapidly accelerating,” said Deborah Westphal, managing partner of Toffler Associates, who continues the work of Alvin and Heidi. “Today, we are in the midst of a revolutionary transformation that will dramatically alter the way we live and work. The silver lining is that businesses, non-profits and governments can take tangible steps today so that they are prepared for tomorrow and the next forty years.”
Toffler Associates released a report [PDF report summary] to help companies prepare for the future by identifying 40 drivers of change for the next 40 years, including:
- Emerging technology in water filtration will reduce global conflicts.
- “Politically, the report expects that the number of women in national leadership positions will increase at an unprecedented rate. It also foresees “hyper-empowered” individuals who will create a radically different future as they continue to gain access to knowledge, technology and finances previously attainable only by nation-states.” Where traditional nations have been the power and idea brokers, private sector groups and a wide range of “transnational networks” will wield an increasing amount of influence.
- “Open, collaborative innovation paradigms will enable companies to grow innovation capabilities beyond the limits of internal R&D teams.”
- Much in the way forward-thinking companies integrate social media’s voice of the customer into their business, Toffler sees this as commonplace in the future: “Consumers or customers will be the most important source of innovation within organizations. The main driving force for “prosumption” – the unpaid output that we all produce every day – will be the technology-enhanced interaction between employees, suppliers, partners and customers.”
- “Companies will increasingly follow the Apple/iPhone model of creating value, not by creating products (in Apple’s case, apps), but by hosting the marketplace and charging to connect consumers to producers.”
- Social networking will drive new means of influence. “New relationships will break down previously protected borders and provide new intelligence sources. Government and business will reach out to previously unconnected contacts, exposing new risks.”
- “Rapid biotechnology advances will lead to the ability to remotely trigger automatic production of immune response and medicines in the body via implants or other means.”
- “In some corners, including the military and intelligence agencies’ collection of full motion video (FMV), data is being collected faster than it can be analyzed.” This must be corrected to prevent unanalyzed data from becoming “cyberdust.”
- Knowledge will be the key source of capital: “The ability to exploit information across traditional boundaries will be a great boon to developing countries as they come to recognize the importance of knowledge capital. Recognizing the importance of knowledge capital, developing countries will begin to place priority emphasis on education and knowledge transfer. The US will make international education a top priority, encouraging Americans to travel to other countries and see themselves as part of the global community.”
If you don’t see your company taking any actions in these statements, remember that Alvin Toffler is also quoted as saying “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”