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Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (1980)Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (1980)


American expert on the future of organizations and people (pictured right).

This was the second part of his trilogy, sandwiched between

  • Powershift (1991).


See also...

Alvin Toffler in the Management Gurus section. 


Book summary


What is the Third Wave?

Society has developed in three stages:


1. The First Wave

(the rise of the agricultural economy).

 Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (1980)

2. The Second Wave

(the Industrial Revolution when people shifted from agriculture to industry).


3. The Third Wave

Starting in the mid-1950’s, a post-industrial, knowledge economy based upon ideas industries like computers, electronics and biotechnology.


The Third Wave is characterized by:

 Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (1980)

1. “Home-centred society”

The home will become the centre of people's work and leisure, assisted by computers and telecommunications (turning the home into an “electronic cottage”).

But the traditional nuclear family will disintegrate, and people will become less child centred.

 Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (1980)

2. “Information society”

Education and the imaginative application of information are vital to solve society's problems like loneliness and the environment.

Information overload is inevitable, so avoid it by selecting what's important.


3. Computers

Computers will empower people at work and leisure enabling home working and substantially reducing the amount of paper in offices.


4. Flexibility and change

Organizations will flexibly respond to their customers' needs through:Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (1980)

a) flexible production

(quickly changing production to customer requirements).

b) innovation

(from curiosity and being  open to new ideas).

c) part-time and home working

(with flexible hours).

 Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (1980)

 5. Social responsibilities

Businesses will be “multi-purpose” i.e. more ethical and socially responsible, pursuing social as well as profit objectives.



6. “De-massification”

Institutions will fragment (“de-massify”) - for example:

  • selling to different market segments (niche marketing).
  • big companies operating as a group of autonomous business units.

 Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (1980)

7. “Prosumers”

People will become both consumers and producers (“prosumers”) by doing things for themselves (e.g. do it yourself (DIY) and community groups).



8. Repairing relationships

To be happy people will seek: 

a) community Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave (1980)

(relationships in groups).

b) structure

(organized activities like work).

c) meaning

(a worthwhile purpose).


Key quote on the knowledge economy

For Third Wave civilization, the most basic raw material of all...is information including imagination. 

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