People have always been curious about the future, particularly as it affects them personally. Fortune tellers, palm readers, analysts and a host of other prognosticators have existed since the beginning of time because of this phenomenon.
As I have traveled about the country and at industry meetings, I am often asked, “where are we going?” or “what is the future of our business?” In responding to such queries, I have always employed a lesson I learned from Alvin Tofflers book, “Future Shock,” published more than 20 years ago.
Future Shock was probably one of the most widely misunderstood books of all time. Based upon the many quotes made by speakers following the books publication, one would easily conclude that the book was about predictions for the future. When many of the things cited in the book did not come to pass, such as the disposable wedding dress, and grandparents opting in favor of travel rather than raising their grandchildren, faith in the books contents began to fade.
However, the book was not intended to be predictive in the usual sense of the word, a point that Toffler made in the introduction to the book. Rather, he said clearly that he was not making predictions and that he would leave such things to the Oracles.
What he was trying to do was to show how events and people could “trigger” change and often do so in a dramatic way. For example, the rise in the divorce rate could trigger a move to cheaper, even disposable wedding gowns, or the two-breadwinner family could trigger bringing grandparents back in to the child-rearing business.
To be sure, both these events have brought change to our societyalthough not the particular ones Toffler cited as possibilities.
The important part in all this is that those who would try to “pierce the veil” and peer into the future should look for events that could trigger a change in the movement of history.
History never moves in a straight line–which is why extrapolating current trends can be so tricky. Dec. 7, 1941 was an event that triggered change throughout the world. It ushered in the atomic age and produced a stimulus to technology that changes lives every day.
The advent of television, while producing an enormous change in entertainment and news dissemination, has also brought serious challenges to our system of values.
The triggers that move history are not all dramaticbut even in subtle ways the effect can be profound. For instance, when retail businesses quit closing on Sunday, the seven-day shopping week was born. The flight to suburbia gave rise to regional shopping malls, thereby killing many downtown areas.