Many of the times that I have spoken to audiences—from board rooms to 3-5,000 people—I have pointedly said that Dr. Alvin Toffler was the futurist that most affected my thinking, and that with great honor, I stand on his shoulders looking into the 21st Century. I had the good fortune to meet him twice and of course have read all his books.
China has honored Dr. Toffler, as well. People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, called him “one of the top 50 foreigners who have had the greatest influence on China in recent centuries.” The primary reason for this is Toffler’s book, “The Third Wave”. Toffler and his partner and co-author, his wife, Heidi, toured China in 1983 on their “The Third Wave” speaking tour. This helped “The Third Wave” to become the second-best-selling book in China at that time after “The Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping.”
When you think of the timing of this visit, it is clear that it was at the beginning of China opening up to the world economically in the mid-1980s. One could argue that the Tofflers’ visit and “The Third Wave” helped trigger the economic miracle that, 35 years later, is modern China. That is influence!
Reading Toffler’s books, from 1970’s “Future Shock” through his last book, 2006’s “Revolutionary Wealth,” was easily one of the greatest ongoing influences in developing my thinking as a now-leading global futurist. Many people have associated me with Toffler, calling me “the new Toffler,” “A 21st Century Toffler,” and “the heir to Toffler,” and saying that “with Toffler’s death Houle takes his place as the leading global futurist today”. Now, it must be said that while each of these comments thrills me deeply, I am totally humbled by them. One is never as good as one’s hero.
I have had the good fortune to have made three speaking trips to China. The first was in 2015 shortly after the Mandarin version of “Entering the Shift Age” had been published. I was honored to speak at Beijing University, at a major entrepreneurial economic summit put on by the City of Shanghai. My trip was well-covered by the Chinese media.
“The Third Wave” was, for me, Toffler’s most influential book. I can still remember reading it and seeing what the working landscape of the future might be. Toffler was right! Right about the Internet, small computers in every home, and distributed workplaces. Right about the “third wave of the information age.” He defined what the Information Age would be. I felt it my responsibility to define the next age, which I did, stating that starting around 2005, humanity had entered “The Shift Age”. I told the publisher of “Entering the Shift Age” that I wanted something on the book’s cover that tied me to Toffler. If you can’t read the Mandarin on the attached photo, above the title there is this: “The End of the Information Age and the New Era of Transformation.” The age I am credited for forecasting follows Toffler’s Information Age—The Third Wave.
“The Third Wave” may have been the most influential book of Toffler’s in China. That said, I would recommend that subsequent books of his, “Powershift,” “War and Anti-War,” and “Revolutionary Wealth,” all be read by Chinese, Americans, and anyone in the world trying to figure out our collective present and future.
Alvin Toffler set the bar very high for any futurist who has come after him. I will always keep trying to get to his level and influence. He was the greatest!
David Houle is a futurist, thinker, and speaker, and has been called “the heir to [Alvin] Toffler.” He spent more than twenty years in media and entertainment (at NBC, CBS, and others), with two Emmys and an Academy Award nomination to his credit. He has published seven books, including his influential first book, 2007’s The Shift Age, and has delivered speeches to scientists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He writes the highly-regarded futurist blog, “Evolution Shift,” and founded the global non-profit organization, This Spaceship Earth, to create “Crew Consciousness” to address climate change.