I met Alvin Toffler (Al to those who knew him) on June 27 2001 at a conference where we were both speaking in Santiago, Chile. Al and I were represented by the Leigh Bureau. Over the course of 48 hours, we watched a private photography show about the beauty of Chile together, had dinner, breakfast, shared the stage, shared a ride to the airport, and sat together on the long flight back to Los Angeles where he lived, while I continued to San Francisco. By a bizarre coincidence, he died in his sleep on June 27 2016 at his Bel Air residence in California.
I have sometimes mentioned my 48 hours with Alvin Toffler in private, but never in public. However, my first encounter with him went deeper. We stayed in touch after that trip, and as it is time to remember his legacy, I wanted to reminisce about my interactions with the man who influenced and marked my professional life.
In 2001, the Internet was relatively new, and during my early conversations with him, he was still very curious to learn more about its long term effects, although he was the one who predicted the information age long before any of us did. At that time, he and his long time co-author and wife, Heidi, were in the process of writing what ended-up being their last book, but it still had no title. He told me they typically take a decade to write a book, by processing a huge amount of information and connecting the dots on a wide variety of trends. I remember asking him about that book’s publish date and its title, and he didn’t know either yet. That book, later was named Revolutionary Wealth and was published in 2007. In it, the Tofflers predicted the sharing economy, as they described how we will be spending more time in self-service activities, and engaging in producing and consuming services from each other. He had coined the term “prosumer” during the 70’s and it was carried throughout his famous trilogy of books, Future Shock, The Third Wave and Powershift. For me, Powershift was the quintessential epitome of the Tofflers’ thinking, and to this day, I still refer to it. Actually, it was prominently listed in the bibliography of my last book, The Business Blockchain.
In the airport lounge while waiting for our flight, I noticed his veracity for reading everything he could get his hands on. He scooped every visible magazine of interest he could see around him. I left him for a few minutes to run an errand at the duty free shopping area, and when I returned to sit with him, he had already devoured a few magazines and picked the ones he was going to take with him on the plane. He introduced me to reading the Daily Yomiuri (that later became Japan News) which he was fond of. I learned he liked to read several books together at once, especially from different topics, because that helped him connect the dots in previously unimagined ways.
We boarded the flight and sat together in first class during that long flight to Los Angeles with a stop in Lima, Peru. It was a 4 hour flight to Lima but we didn’t un-board the plane. There, we stood up, stretched our legs a bit, and I recall peering from the airplane’s open door towards the lights of the city of Lima. That brief stopover was followed by an 8.5 hours overnight stretch to LA. The trip was peppered by long talks with Al, some reading, eating and sleeping. We arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-morning, and bid goodbye as we split on the passport line between US and non-US residents.
In 2004, Al connected me with Toffler Associates, their namesake strategic consulting and advisory firm whose work focuses on top companies and government agencies. I remember they invited me to participate in a think tank session for the National Security Agency (NSA) in Baltimore to help the NSA think about scenarios of the future (post 9-11). I enjoyed being part of a day and half of interactions and contributions, and it was an interesting experience.
I consider my encounter and later sporadic relationship with Alvin Toffler to have had a profound impact on my writings, research and scholarly side. I learned from him the rigors of the thought process that produces insights as a result of going through deep pockets of information and connecting the dots. He told me their first book gave them the privilege of access to a number of leaders around the world, and they each gave them a piece of insight. Their job was to assemble these insights together and connect the dots between them. Today, I am lucky that I have access to some of the brightest startup entrepreneurs in the blockchain space, and I learn from them daily.
I end this short tribute with something Al told me that was forever stuck in my mind. He said: “We are all futurists”. He went on to explain that we each have our own vision of the future, as we think about the future in our own way, based on our own experiences and outlook. What a powerful and humbling statement by someone who defined the word “futurist” and remained the very best of them.
Al, may you rest in peace up there. You were a personal inspiration and a gargantuan thinking force on our world.