All futurists, the professionals that forecast, analyze trends and attempt to predict what’s coming owe a colossal debt to Alvin Toffler who died at 87 yesterday. I know I do. He was the father of futurists everywhere. His forecasts from space to technology and business opened up a new thinking about our world that was fresh and unique. He was the interpreter of the future yet to be.
Al was an original thinker that inspired me and everyone he met. His passion and sheer force of intellect was impossible to ignore. He navigated how power, globalization and technology were creating a new world. He sought to interpret that new world. And he did.
His book Future Shock disrupted business, society and popular culture by first forecasting the convergence of knowledge, technology, change and social order. His next book the Third Wave took the world by storm as well. It went deeper into the waves of change that would explain the present and our future. He created a typology of change so we could understand change. Al’s insights influenced the leaders of the day. He was a wellspring; he inspired us all by predicting the impact of technology on our world and enabling us to think about the future in a unique and courageous way.
Toffler was my first mentor. I had the honor to work with him NY City in the 1970’s. As a young social scientist still going to graduate school, I was amazed by the intellectual depth of Al Toffler. He inspired me to pursue being a futurist and my career has been shaped by his contribution to the world found in his books and projects.
He started the Anticipatory Democracy Network which was developed to advise the US Congress on how to build foresight into the democratic process of government. No easy thing. Al’s vision was that “Anticipatory Democracy” is the public and their representatives natural right and process of engagement in shaping their social and political future. The AD Network was a bold and amazing experience that Toffler invited me to work with him on which I did. It was the seminal futures project that altered the direction of my life. I decided then that being a futurist, like Al Toffler was my career objective.
Looking back at Toffler’s public greatness was secondary to his personal graciousness. Though decades older then me at the time when he invited me to work with him, he never made me feel small. Quite the opposite. Al made me feel big. I felt I was part of his forecasting wave that swept over us all. He invited me to a seat at the table. Actually we worked at times out of his apartment. But he made me feel apart of the juggernaut of forecasting that was a course change for business, society and civilization.
Al’s graciousness was second only to his curiosity and common man experience. He had been a welder, labor journalist, magazine editor and finally a world renown author. Though I never heard him refer to himself as a futurist, he was undeniably the first who was. The entire concept, the very paradigm of being a futurist, one who forecasted the future was a unique emerging profession that defied definition.
I being a kid of the sixties, seventies and the various gut wrenching social movements that changed the social and political landscape of the day–from Watergate to the Pentagon Papers to Vietnam, saw Toffler as an interpreter of civilization’s tsunami’s of complex change. But most of all Toffler invited me and others, neophytes into the conversation with open arms. All ideas were welcome.
Though I have had the immense good fortune of working with many thought leaders, business gurus and authors, there is no one that has had more of an impact on my professional world then Al Toffler. He was a visionary whose ideas are relevant even today. His large net that he threw to grapple with change was second to none. He was curious and infected me with this trait.
He was the first to embrace and understand that technology was a social transformative force. That change was cultural. That we as humans were caught between the worlds of an industrial and post-industrial era and that “information overload” was not normal. We were in a state of complex change that Al’s books like Future Shock explained with clarity, honesty and even courage.
Though we lost touch over the years, we would find ourselves on a CNN special together on the future around 2008 where we reconnected. He was warm and engaging when we talked. The show went well and we talked afterward.
I never forgot how grateful I was for knowing Al Toffler. I say when asked that Al Toffler inspired my career direction. His mentorship was appreciated. He will be missed.
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