Upper case Al: Looking to the Future
There are not many people who cross our paths that influence the way we think and the way we approach our work and our lives, especially when that influence is profound and long lasting, even if the interaction was short lived.
Sometimes it is a friend, college professor, high school teacher, neighbor, parent or someone else that may have been a mentor.
For me, it was Alvin Toffler, author of such future thinking books such as Future Shock, The Third Wave and War and Anti War.
Mr. Toffler passed away recently. His passing prompted me to think about him and reflect upon what he stood for. While the actual passing was not a surprise given his age and health, it was still poignant. Coincidentally, Roberta Shindler was rereading Toffler’s War and Anti War when we learned of Toffler’s passing.
I was introduced to him in the late 90s by an executive working in advanced technology at one of the major studios where we were analyzing some of the initiatives they were considering as the digital transition was beginning to gain traction.
Our work with Alvin Toffler and his team was to help create a business plan for a future thinking business that would reside on the internet, even in the net’s nascent days. Its working title: FutureNet. The plan received a financing commitment from a wealthy individual, but due to certain circumstances, the company did not move forward.
I learned a lot during the planning process, not just in thinking about the proposed business and in guiding the strategic planning process, but in how Mr. Toffler thought about the future.
“How do you know so much about the future?” I asked one day when we had some one to one time after our business meeting. “I read everything I can get my hands on,” was his reply.
It seemed so simple. Strewn around his office were newspapers and magazines from around the US, and perhaps more importantly, from around the world. After all, the future is not just American in nature. It is a global perspective that drives us to the future.
Even at that time he thought about cyber security and hacking, although those terms were not yet common place. He used a computer to access the internet and another one for writing.
I have always read on a variety of topics, business, technology and others, but following that conversation, the range of my reading expanded significantly as a result of Toffler’s response to my question. I believe that his response to the simple question that I asked has served as the foundation for much of the work in which we are involved.
Among other matters that impacted me personally was including Roberta’s name on our reports, reminiscent of the books after Future Shock that were authored by Heidi and Alvin Toffler. Roberta and I had been working together for a relatively short time when I was privileged to work with Mr. Toffler. Her contributions were instrumental then and certainly are today for what we do as a team for our clients.
Not surprisingly, I am not alone in acknowledging the influence of Alvin Toffler. The Third Wave, for example, inspired Steve Case and his founding of AOL, and was the basis for his recent book also titled The Third Wave.
So, what is the title uppercase Al all about?
One of Toffler’s business partners on the project was also named Al. He had his own solid resume and was a pioneer in the early days of TV, involved in producing some of the ground breaking TV shows of the era, most of which endured the test of time and are still relevant.
In deference to Toffler and in his own self-deprecating but humorous way, he referred to himself as lower case al and to Alvin as uppercase Al.
In my mind, uppercase Al was one of a kind and one to whom many futurists today owe a debt of gratitude for his groundbreaking work.
If you have not read Toffler’s books, I highly recommend that you do so. They continue to be pertinent today.
Alvin Toffler often remarked that people were afraid of the future. That has never been more relevant than today.