The Third Wave: A book review by Bob Morris

Third WaveThe Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future
Steve Case
Simon & Schuster (April 2016)

A compelling personal account of an inclusive and explosive digital revolution from one of those who launched it

It was Alvin Toffler who introduced the concept of multiple “waves” of socioeconomic development in his classic work, The Third Wave (published, coincidentally and appropriately, in 1984). Briefly, by way of background:

o The First Wave (1985-1999) is the settled agricultural society which prevailed in much of the world after the Neolithic Revolution, which replaced hunter-gatherer cultures.

o The Second Wave (2000-2015) is Industrial Age society. The Second Wave began in Western Europe with the Industrial Revolution, and subsequently spread across the world. Key aspects of Second Wave society are the nuclear family, a factory-type education system and the corporation.

Toffler writes:

“The Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation, mass entertainment, and weapons of mass destruction. You combine those things with standardization, centralization, concentration, and synchronization, and you wind up with a style of organization we call bureaucracy.”

o The Third Wave (2016-) is the post-industrial society. Toffler says that since the late 1950s most countries have been transitioning from a Second Wave society into a Third Wave society. He coined many words to describe it and mentions names invented by others, such as the Information Age.

As Steve Case explains, he wrote this book “for entrepreneurs to help shape their dreams and for corporate titans to help temper their nightmares.” In certain significant respects, this is a prominent entrepreneur’s reflections on the past in combination with his vision of the future but it is also a remarkably objective discussion of how best to cope with a global community that seems to become more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous each day.

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest Case’s scope of coverage:

o Time Warner-AOL merger (Pages xi-xiii)
o The Third Wave (4-5, 42-55, and 68-69)
o Case, quantum computers, and Apple (23-29)
o Case as CEO of AOL (33-34, 39-41, and 56-57)
o Third Wave and entrepreneurs (42-54 and 68-79)
o Education (47-51)
o Microsoft (60-66)
o Entrepreneurial partnerships (69-76)
o Establishing credibility when creating partnerships (72-75)
o MOOGs (75-76)
o Disruption and the Third Wave (80-88)
o Geographic concentration of entrepreneurs (91-98)
o Impact investing (106-113)
o U.S. Government and entrepreneurs (145-164)
o President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (155-161)
o Relationship with federal government (163-164 and 194-195)
o Government and venture capital laws (156-161 and 174-176)
o Case’s key takeaways on the Third Wave (187-188)
o New Orleans and the “rise of the rest” entrepreneurs (198-201)

After re-reading this book in preparation to compose this brief commentary, I reviewed the material in my Alvin Toffler file and came upon several dozen insightful observations. Here are five:

“Knowledge is the most democratic source of power.”
“Most managers were trained to be the thing they most despise – bureaucrats.”
“Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”
“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.”
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

These insights are shared because they are so relevant to the challenges addressed in his book. Like a tsunami, the Third Wave will either enable us to transcend those challenges or be consumed by them.

With brilliance as well as eloquence, Steve Case urges his reader to take action. “Be fearless. You may stumble, but get back up. Keep going. Keep tinkering, perhaps late at night., after the children are in bed. Build something that makes you proud — but no satisfied enough to stop dreaming about what comes next. Enter the arena. Topple an empire and build your own from the group up. The world is waiting.”

But it won’t wait as long as it once did….

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