When it was published in 1970, Alvin Toffler's Future Shock painted a picture--at times surprising and other times grim--of what future societies would look like. Some of the prophecies, like underwater cities and family-owned spaceships, are still far from reality.
But many of them were spot on. The overall themes discussed by Toffler and his wife, Heidi, who co-authored both of Toffler's follow-up books, are now part of everyday life.
Toffler died in Los Angeles Monday at age 87, but the thoughtfulness and accuracy of his work lives on.
"No serious futurist deals in 'predictions,' " he wrote in the Future Shock introduction, instead encouraging readers to think about the book's larger concepts.
When NPR asked him in 2010 why, then, he was a futurist, Toffler replied: "Because it makes you think. It opens up the questions of what's possible. Not necessarily what will be, but what's possible."
Much of what Toffler wrote about related to companies, the economy, and how we do business. Here are four of Toffler's visions for the future of business that turned out to be startlingly accurate.
1. The internet.
One of the driving themes of Toffler's work was that knowledge would become the driving force behind powerful societies--more so even than labor or materials. Toffler wrote that those people, institutions, and civilizations that failed to keep up with the pace of new information would quickly face decline. He predicted the spread of free-flowing information via personal computers and the internet, and brought the term "information overload" into the popular lexicon, a reference to the difficulty people have understanding issues and making decisions because of the overwhelming amounts of data available.
2. The sharing economy.
The Tofflers believed we'd live in a society where there was no reason to own anything. Part of this was dead wrong: Heidi predicted we'd wear clothes made of paper that were disposed of after every use. But other aspects of this concept hit the mark--specifically, the idea that we'd be able to use things as needed and return them when we're done. Zipcar and any of the ride-hailing apps fall under this category, as do Rent the Runway for wedding garb and Airbnb for apartments. It's never been easier to call something your own--for a few days or a few minutes at a time.
Fewer and fewer jobs today require employees to be physically present in their office. Toffler predicted this and the rise of home offices, writing that homes would one day resemble "electronic cottages" that would allow people greater work-life balance and a richer family life. Today, opinions on telecommuting policies are decidedly mixed, but there's no denying their prevalence.
4. Businesses without formal structure.
Toffler popularized the phrase "adhocracy," a reference to a company that operates without a formal hierarchy. An adhocracy as defined by Toffler is flexible and often horizontally structured. It allows for creativity and adaptability, since employees aren't pigeonholed into certain roles. Many startups today are adhocracies--offering roles that change based on needs and titles that wouldn't fit anywhere on a traditional corporate ladder.