Future Shock. The Third Wave. Power Shift. And now, Revolutionary Wealth. Having read the first three of Alvin Toffler's bestsellers on how life is changing and why, I searched for his fourth major work in 2000. His series clarified for laypeople the evolution from a "first wave" agrarian-based economy to a "second-wave" industrial to the knowledge-based "third-wave" economy, and his prognostications were very useful. I needed the one I was sure would be out in 2000, but it wasn't there.
Future Shock, published in 1970, prepared us for the information age; The Third Wave, published in 1980, further interpreted the movement toward electronic empowerment; Power Shift, published 1990, prophesied a change in the very nature of power. Then, the Tofflers, as Alvin included his wife Heidi, stated they would not publish a book in 2000. The turn of the millennium was not a good time --too many uncertainties. Finally, in 2006, Revolutionary Wealth joined the line up of hallmark achievements for these very special authors.
What's in their book for you? A mind-blowing discourse on what goes on in the first decade of the 21st Century and what to look for; an expansive digest of world trends and events that are churning up the "third wave." A reader might be lucky enough to amass revolutionary wealth by keying into one of the featured trends of the knowledge economy. For example: "The new wealth system demands a complete shake-up in the way increasingly temporary skill sets are organized for increasingly temporary purposes throughout the economy." This prediction may lead you to challenge your staff to find ways of meeting American customer desires by supporting their new and changing family configurations.
Or, you may be the powerful player who pushes legislative change to keep pace with societal need. The Tofflers note that while business and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are moving at speeds of 100 or 90 mph, labor unions, education and legal institutions are lagging at speeds of 30 to only 1 mph. This is an amazing dilemma if your law suit is never settled until your actual business need ceases to exist.
Taking a bird's eye-- or more like a satellite-view of production and human labor over history, one sees a bright future despite the glaring hardships besetting nations, economies and workers at the present. A glance at the facts of knowledge reveals why the knowledge-based economy holds immense potential for people relative to the agrarian and industrial epochs… Knowledge...
- is inherently non-rival - the greater the number of people who use it, the more likely it is that someone will generate more knowledge from the same bit of it.
- is intangible
- is non-linear - tiny insights can yield huge outputs
- is relational - a unique piece attains meaning only in context with other bits
- mates with other knowledge - the more there is, the more possible combinations there are
- is more portable than any other product - can be distributed instantaneously to the next cubicle or to ten million in Hong Kong at the same near-zero price
- can be compressed into symbols or abstractions - unlike tangibles
- can be stored in smaller and smaller spaces - coming soon is storage nano scale
- can be explicit or implicit - shared or not
- is hard to bottle up - it spreads.
(The above list is an edited version of the ten features on pp. 100-101 of RW.)
Can you now understand why more job creation is simply a matter of exercising our collective imaginations? Factories exported to Mexico? So what. China manufacturing more and more: Big deal. America, you are the giant of the knowledge economy! Realize your prowess!
Other messages are not so fun: Desynchronization between the deep fundamentals like time and space and our major institutions is a serious dilemma. MUCH more troubling: Our educational system is not preparing students to work in the new economy that is striving to get in sync with the deep fundamentals.
The Tofflers put stock in science. If the trends and realities of this accelerated day and time are shocking and unwieldy, apply scientific method and planning. This, in their view, is an effective salve for the human condition.
Prediction: In an age of NGOs becoming past-masters at negotiations and missions accomplished, we can expect human cloning and such other possibilities to occur. One NGO will fight against particular agendas; another will successfully advocate. The clout of NGOs will eclipse that of nations.
Insights for the US
RW is not blithely proglobal. It does not turn a blind eye to China's military budget "estimated to have shot up at least sixfold between 1991 and 2004" (p. 322) and its theft of intellectual property (p. 377).
RW sees that the great powers including America are less and less great. And in the current climate of anti-American sentiment worldwide, where is the appreciation for her contributions? Winston Churchill's statement about the U.S. Marshall Plan under which the WWII-torn nations were rebuilt as "the most unsordid act in history" is quoted.
As you can see, the book runs the gamut from reasons to regard your prospects with amazement to woeful potential turns of fate for the red-white-and-blue.
From the "24 hour street" in Curitiba, Brazil, to "obsoledge" in the internet, to the unpaid work of prosumers, to the rise of para-money, to sensor technology that is emerging as one of the most important industries of the future, you will like Revolutionary Wealth, if you enjoy roller coaster rides.
Revolutionary Wealth, by Alvin and Heidi Toffler. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2006.