Vanishing Point

RAPPORT // In Praise of Heidi Toffler – a Dream Crazier Paragon

Posted by Deb Westphal - Feb 27, 2019, 1:20:00 PM

Rapport_2.27.19_wideNike’s Dream Crazier ad is sweeping its way across social media. Debuted during this week’s 91st Academy Awards, its message of female empowerment is clear and direct. Beautiful visuals of strong and confident female athletes flash, evoking physical and mental accomplishment. Tennis champion Serena Williams narrates.

 

Within a day of its release, the 90-second ad earned five million views on YouTube.

 

 

“If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic. If we want to play against men, we’re nuts. And if we dream of equal opportunity, we’re delusional. When we stand for something, we’re unhinged. When we’re too good, there’s something wrong with us. And if we get angry, we’re hysterical, irrational, or just being crazy. "

– Serena Williams, Nike Dream Crazier

 

The timing of the release of Dream Crazier is serendipitous for me. In the past week, I have reflected a lot to find the adequate words to convey the admiration and gratitude I feel for Heidi Toffler.

 

Heidi died February 6th at the age of 89. She was the wife and longtime business partner of renowned futurist Alvin Toffler. She was a loving mother. And she was a co-founder of our firm, Toffler Associates. While Heidi wasn’t a professional athlete, she was an independent, strong-willed intellectual who dared to dream crazier.

 

I had the incredibly good fortune to know Heidi for much of my adult life and to see firsthand the impact of her collaborations with Alvin. Together, they authored the groundbreaking book, Future Shock, which launched five decades of influence among political leaders, executives, and innovators around the globe. Though unrecognized for decades for her contributions to Future Shock and their other global best sellers The Third Wave, and Powershift, Heidi was consistently at Al’s side. She challenged, learned, and drove to understand the disruptive changes global societies faced to help global leaders pave new paths toward better futures.

 

In Heidi, Al had an intellectual equal who encouraged and challenged him almost daily. She was full of energy and never afraid to speak her mind. That, perhaps, was what Al loved most about her. At a time when few women were even allowed in the room, Heidi had a seat at the table with some of the world’s most influential leaders. She truly was a woman before her time and someone who made an indelible mark on equality and history.

 

Heidi and the Bidet

She was one of the most authentic and wholehearted people I have ever known. One story seems to describe her authenticity and pursuit of equality best.

 

Many years ago, Al and Heidi traveled to meet with Japanese government and business leaders to share thoughts and insights into how the coming Information Age would shape competition in an increasingly disruptive global market. Every day the Tofflers’ schedule was packed with various meetings with senior executives, some with government officials to discuss policy and others to meet with business leaders to discuss possible strategic moves for staying global powerhouses.

 

During the first couple of days of the trip, a man and a woman would show up at the Tofflers’ hotel to escort them to various events and support them with whatever logistics were necessary. The man was there to take Al to meet with the Japanese leaders. The woman was there to take Heidi shopping. There was massive confusion by Heidi’s adamant response that she would not be going shopping. Rather, she stated, she would be going with Al to meet with senior executives. On the third day of their trip, the Tofflers’ support team showed up without the woman escort. When asked where the woman was, the response was directed at Heidi,” You are an intellectual lady, you do not go shopping, you go with your husband to meetings.” The message had been received. Heidi was Al’s equal. Even though no other female would be in attendance at any of the planned meetings, she would be.

 

Toward the end of the same trip to Japan, NEC Corporation leadership held a special board meeting with the Tofflers. It was neither expected nor customary for females to be in attendance of the male-dominated board and leadership team meetings. Because it was the Tofflers, however, this meeting was an exception. Heidi was there. She and Al were partners. Together, they presented their thoughts on societal and technological shifts occurring and discussed implications to NEC Corporation. But before the meeting could happen, those important and powerful men got a taste of the real, authentic Heidi.

 

Before the meeting started Heidi asked to use the lady’s room. Every time I hear this story, I envision the picture of 30-40 men in black suits, waiting outside the conference for Heidi to return so the meeting could start. After ten minutes or so, Heidi emerged – drenched with water. She had just come in contact with a Japanese high-tech toilet. When she saw Al, she started cracking up. As she told him of the many buttons and functions of the toilet, Al lost it and started laughing hard along with her. Soon these two world-renowned futurists and authors had all of the NEC board and leadership team laughing at Heidi’s wonderment and experience with their technology-rich toilet. Any other woman may have been embarrassed or worried about her place at the meeting after such an incident. Not Heidi. She was authentic, secure, and self-assured. She knew she was meant to be there, drenched or dry.

 

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Dr. Maya Angelou

 

For me, Heidi was a role model to dream crazier. It wasn’t the words she spoke or the things she did, it was how I felt when I was around her. Heidi was a mix of strength and softness, challenge and understanding, and impatience and calm. She showed emotion – at times a lot of it. She stood her ground on those things she believed in, always making sure you were clear on her position. She was even known at times to argue loudly with Al in front of thousands of people in a conference auditorium. Being around Heidi grew my confidence as a female leader.

 

I’m sure some may have thought her dramatic, unhinged, irrational, or just nuts. She was none of these. She was an incredible woman. She was smart, confident, and capable – a force to be reckoned with. She loved white flowers, especially roses. She always wore a simple yellow diamond pendant that Al had given her for an anniversary. She was a pioneer for women’s rights by just doing it, all the while being the picture of grace as a mother, wife, friend, and professional.

 

I will miss Heidi greatly.

Deb Westphal

Deb Westphal

As Chairman of the Board for Toffler Associates, Deborah brings skills and insights honed over 30 years working with some of the top minds and leaders of governments and Fortune 100 companies. Deborah has an MBA from Webster University and a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Mexico, and has completed extensive continuing education with Harvard Business School and Wharton Business School. She is also a member of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

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