“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things,so that all the small things go in the right direction.”
– Alvin Toffler
The world is changing fast. Increases in speed, complexity and knowledge are accompanied by uncertainty, time-scarcity and information-overwhelm. People shake their heads as they bemoan “the state of the nation” and hark back to simpler times. But what if there’s a larger pattern behind the changes we’re experiencing? In this article, you’re going to discover what that larger pattern is, what it means for businesses and individuals, and what you can do to ride the waves of change, rather than battle against them.
The waves of transformation
In their seminal book “The Third Wave”, Alvin and Heidi Toffler used the metaphor of waves to describe the revolutionary changes that have swept over the globe through history. Each “wave” solves existing problems, while creating new possibilities, new benefits and new challenges. Solutions to the new problems are delivered by the next wave. In brief, here are the 3 waves the Tofflers described:
1st Wave: The Agricultural Revolution
The 1st wave starts around 8000 BC with the domestication of plants and animals, resulting in stabilisation of food supplies. For the first time in human history, some members of the tribe are freed from the daily work of finding food. In the process, new opportunities, problems and solutions arise: writing (to keep track of “agricultural wealth”), bureaucracy (people to do the writing) and aristocracy (to oversee bureaucrats, settle disputes etc). Labourers and managers are needed to get the work done, and urban centres start emerging. Armies protect valuable food-economy territory. Religions take up the slack as people leave the security and connection of the close-knit tribe. Over time, increasing agricultural wealth allows agri-cultures to dominate hunter-gatherer cultures.
2nd Wave: The Industrial Revolution
The 2nd wave starts around 1760 with the mechanisation of manual labour, resulting in the mass production of goods. Once again, new opportunities, problems and solutions arise: compliant, consistent workforces are needed to man the factories. Mandatory schooling prepares children to be good factory-workers; used to a working-week, responsive to timetables, unquestioningly obedient. Large institutions become a mainstay of daily life (schools, companies, government), providing a sense of belonging, security and stability. The mass is born: mass production, mass education, mass marketing, mass transport, mass communication, and the mass devastation of 20th century war. Industrial wealth results in “manufacturing economies” that dominate agricultural societies.
3rd Wave: The Information Revolution
The 3rd wave starts around 1940 with the digitisation of information. Advances in the speed of communication and information technology give rise to cultural and commercial acceleration. Complexity, time-scarcity and information-overload are the inevitable result, and “attention” becomes the most valuable commodity. As outsourcing, ecommerce and remote working increase, the power of large institutions reduces; people start searching elsewhere for values, security and a sense of belonging. The “knowledge economy” rewards informational wealth, and dominates info-poor industrial cultures.
Characteristics and considerations
Before we start exploring the emerging 4th wave, it’s worth considering a few characteristics of the waves of transformation that have shaped the world we live in today…
• Successive waves arrive more and more quickly: The gap between waves 1 and 2 is 10,000 years; the gap between waves 2 and 3 is 180 years. As we’ll see, the gap between waves 3 and 4 is less than 70 years.
• As previously mentioned, each wave solves existing problems, while creating new possibilities, benefits and challenges. For instance… The 2nd wave crashes into the 1st wave, resulting in factory farms and industrial food production. The 3rd wave crashes into the 2nd wave, resulting in just-in-time manufacturing and print-on-demand books, and so on.
• As each wave emerges, the culture embraces new stories about its future; new images of itself (remember those 1950s newsreels predicting the robot-enabled, leisure-age of the future?) As the previous wave’s future-images start to fade and disintegrate, positive new stories are needed that align with the new wave and nourish the culture with hope for what it promises.
• There are early indicators (and early adopters) as each wave emerges. For instance, computers used to be the domain of scientists, the military and big business. As the 3rd wave gathered power, “computer geeks”, hobbyists and other early-adopters got involved. The past 30 years have seen computers move from the specialist fringe to the consumer mainstream as they’ve become integrated into our daily living.
• With waves come opportunity. China is currently on a twin-track, developing quickly in both a 2nd wave manufacturing economy and a 3rd wave knowledge economy, graduating huge numbers of engineers. India has a massive IT industry, employing nearly 3 million professionals.
• With each wave comes a reduction in tangibility and an increase in leverage. Specific crops require a certain soil and climate, and have constraints on their yield. Factories are less constrained and can produce more. Knowledge is virtually unconstrained and can be leveraged infinitely.
The author JK Rowling is a great example of this last point. While travelling on a train in 1990, she had the thought of a boy wizard attending wizarding school, and the Harry Potter brand was born. Her idea became a book series, a film series and a range of merchandise. Recently, Warner Brothers launched the Harry Potter studio experience in London (a business generating over £100,000 per day in ticket sales alone). The Harry Potter industry has delighted millions of people and generated billions of dollars. And it all came from a single thought.
And here’s the thing: each successive wave is like accelerant for the wave before it:
• The industrial revolution transformed agriculture
• The information revolution transformed industry
We’re now in the midst of the information revolution – more people than ever before earn their living participating in knowledge work.
So what’s going to be transforming the knowledge economy?
In part two of this article, we’ll be exploring the 4th wave: the Thought Revolution.
Having just started myself in the people helping business working with the thought revolution, the impact I’ve already witnessed has been amazing so I’m looking forward to part 2. Thanks for a great article…
You’re welcome, Franco – looking forward to reading your comments going forward. Thanks! J
awesome-ness ! 😀
Thanks Shreya, J
Excellent article Jamie. One of the interesting things for me is the time-lapse between each wave. It would stand to reason that the 5th wave will be upon us before we have really come to terms with the after effects of the 4th wave.
I am looking forward to readin the next installment.
Hi Sean – Indeed, & I have no idea what the 5th wave would look like. I’m still marvelling at what the 4th wave promises. Thanks for posting. Best J
interesting article.. would recommend “butterflies are free to fly” a great free book on kindle whereby the author states there maybe evidence that everything has happened before its actually happened and understanding this one principle can create a new consideration of how your thoughts do and do not affect your life?
Great reading Jamie
Thanks for the recommendation John, and for your posts. Best J
Just a pity that the youth of today are lazy to think!
Are they? What a sweeping generalisation..
I`m 45 and this is what they used to say about my generation when I was teen. Please do not distribute this thought . It does n`t help .Laziness is part of our nature at any ages though. It would be productive to make laziness working for us grabbing the opportunity to be more creative and allow ourselves to spend more time thinking and loving. ” Less is more “
The youth of today is “too lazy” to think what it’s told to think, when it’s told to think by a school system that was designed to serve the needs of the industrial revolution (yeah, the one that’s over in this country). They know it’s a busted flush. They are to be congratulated on refusing to waste their time. Even if “all” they do instead is send texts and hang out on facebook. Should we even expect to understand, let alone presume to criticise?
(PS If you fancy some optional thinking practice, consider whether the noun phrase “the youth of today” is singular or plural, and then select the correct form of the verb “to be” to match in person and number.)
Hi Joyce – I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with a number of the youth of today (including my own daughters). I’m pleased to report that they’re engaged and hopeful. Thanks for posting. J
Well considered response Mr. Smart.
My daughter is 20 years old and works in a home with patients with Dementia. She works over 50 hours a week and comes out with very little. I asked her what she had been doing the other day and she told me all the usual stuff and then she said she’d spent sometime with a lady who she’d noticed had a large makeup bag in her handbag. She’d made the lady up and in a rare moment of clarity, the lady smiled and thanked her…..I’d so pleased my young lady had the time to think what would make someone else happy.
Excellent thought provoking article, I’m looking forward to reading part two.
Thanks Rachel – parts 2 & 3 are now posted. Looking forward to your comments. Best J
An excellent article and insight.
We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far. – Swami Vivekananda
Keep it coming
Thanks Sampathkumar – great quote. Best, J
Your 10,000 year/10,000 foot view enables us to get a sense of some of our patterns that are not visible in the here and now. Great work! Looking forward to Part 2.
Thanks Art – parts 2 & 3 are now live. Looking forward to reading what you make of them. Best J
Jamie, great article! ! I never realized before that each successive wave happens more rapidly. I’m so happy to be one of the early(ish) adopters of the 4th wave. Excellent stuff, Jamie! Looking forward to part 2!
Thanks Jackie – I’m very happy to be a W4 early adopter too! One of the best bits of luck I’ve experience so far 😉 Thanks again, J
Well done Jamie! Interesting article and hoping to receive the next one soon!!
Thanks MK, parts 2 & 3 are now live. Looking forward to reading your comments on them. Best J
Excellent article Jamie, really thought provoking and certainly a good eye opener. Love the way that it’s described metaphorically as different waves. Looking forward to reading part 2.
Thanks Karen – I have Alvin & Heidi Toffler to thank for the “waves” metaphor. Parts 2 & 3 are now live. Looking forward to reading your comments. Best J
I’d like to see you expand on the idea “comes a reduction in tangibility” regarding each new wave.
Thanks Greg – the “reduction in tangibility” Is a theme running through all the articles. Basically land is very tangible – if I’m growing wheat on it, it’s tough for you to grow corn on it. Machines are also tangible, but the designs can be replicated, so that’s less tangible & more powerful. Information can be copied effortlessly, and ideas can’t even be copyrighted. Less tangible, more powerful. Hope this clarifies – I’ll have another crack at it if not. Thanks again, J
Inspiring to read your writing, and I like the picture with the Drucker quote! Look forward to part 2.
Thanks Wilhelm – I love the Drucker quote too. Parts 2 & 3 are now live. Looking forward to reading your comments. Big love J
Always love your insight Jamie. Looking forward to part 2.
Thanks Insa – I love sharing it with you. Parts 2 & 3 are now up! Looking forward to reading what you make of them. Big love Jx
Jamie, its refreshing to be in contact with you Jamie – to find others who are on the same page… (or even in the same book. There are wonderful innovations waiting to be tapped around this stuff. Many of us have been working with the same vision and possiblities – just from different perspectives. It would be good for us to get together and expore more – create more – share more. I too am fascinated by the Drucker quote and lots more. Jamie – you can take this to a whole new level! Lets find a way to share the know-how!
Thanks Franciszka – let’s connect again and find some next steps (thanks for your patience). Looking forward to speaking soon. Big love, Jx
Love the graphic Jamie, I can see how the changes in the way you present this information will help people not only get it faster, but also move beyond the intellectual understanding. The things you have shared with me have not only made me stronger and more resilient, they are there with me every day – I may not always catch myself in the moment though 🙂
Thanks Andy – I don’t always “catch it” in the moment either – that’s one of the curious things about this understanding – I keep losing sight of it! Thanks for posting, and for being you. BML, J
Hi Jamie just wanted to congratulate you on a fantastic article. It’s good to see many who are awakening to what is taking place in the world. Your explanation of the waves that have and are taking place in the world is very similar to what is explained in ken Wilbers integral theory and spiral dynamics. Many may be concerned about the collapse of old systems that are now becoming apparent but as you mentioned these are just transition aspects where one way of being and doing is passing into new ways of being and doing. Really look forward to the second part of this article. Keep spreading the word 🙂
Thanks Jon – glad you’re enjoying it. I’ve read Spiral Dynamics (the book) but haven’t delved much into Wilber’s work. One of the powerful things about this understanding is it appears to enable people (and maybe cultures?) to jump levels, ie. progress from one level of the spiral to another, without going through the levels in between. Exciting times! Thanks again for posting. Big love, J
Jamie poses this provoking question “So what’s going to be transforming the knowledge economy?”
I’m looking forward to the next article and feel that, for myself, I have solutions.
Simply, people misunderstand that their perspective is always of opportunity mixed with difficulty … and we all, individually, are responsible for choosing which perspective to adopt.
As an example, I witnessed, this a.m., a talking-up of all the negatives in a specific workplace (educational).
I don’t think I’ve ever heard people walking to work chatting about how great things have been, how great they are or how great they will be. So the working day, for most people, begins with an uphill climb, psychologically speaking.
More to the point, these people were not in the present … and, what’s more, most people would likely misunderstand what is going on when they are ‘in the zone.’
So I look forward to a smooth if not effortless transition wherein I will find myself in the new ‘economy of understanding’.
In truth, I am already there _ and the elevated view provides a beautiful change of perspective.
HI Jamie, first of all I need to say that 'Clarity' has brought together several years of reading a huge number of self help and spiritual literature in order to bring myself back from a life led too fast, with too much importance on materiality and unimportant paradigms, to where I am now. Happy (deliriously!) with who I am, my new partner, my new life and the ideas of Abundance through Positive thought. 'Clarity', was the book I needed to read 8 years ago, which may have led to my bookshelves not groaning under the sheer weight of all that paper!
In regards to the subject above, I was introduced to The Third Wave as a teenager and was 'stunned' (I normally dislike the use of that word to describe a mental experience) by it's foresight, it's honesty in setting out how this planet has evolved and how it probably will continue to do so and how it made sense of the chaotic system that was, modern life. I do however, believe that we are also in a time of awakening to spiritual enlightenment in regards to what the heck we are all doing racing around, slave to money, before we pop our clogs.
Simply put, a 'Pure Reason Revolution'. Which only the clearer minds in society can instigate. It's coming. It has to.
Really interesting. Makes you wonder where we are going. How fast can things get before we are just a singular? The way things have advanced over the last 100 – 200 years. We have really made huge leaps compared to the vast amounts of time gone before us.
Hi Jamie, this is a great article! I think as much as possible, if we are just proactive in shaping and participating in a society that works with our passion, as opposed to forcing ourselves to work in silo of each other, in an area we don’t enjoy, we would see a faster revolution of this kind come about. I love that more and more people are swayed by the Tim Ferris ideal of a 4-day working week, and myself, being able to follow more and more of a spiritual path raising the vibration amongst my local community, seems to be changing the way we are living more and more. The rise of veganism, deeper ethics and climate change / responsibility is also fascinating to see. I think we live in exciting times right now! Well that’s how I choose to see it. We just need mental health services to catch up a bit with where society is now at and we’ll be winning 😉
Some interesting points here Jamie. Makes you consider how proactive participating in society by using your passion can help to shape something more positive. Also the next revolution seems to be happening more and more with people following the likes of Tim Ferris’s 4 hour working week and such. Cutting down hours and re prioritising things that try matter!