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Reflecting on Future Shock Forum 2016

Deb Westphal
December 15, 2016

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I’ve just returned from Future Shock Forum 2016. I’m exhausted but completely energized and so grateful.


The event was a capstone to a year marked both by loss and celebration for Toffler Associates. In this 20th year of our firm, we lost our co-founder and namesake, Alvin Toffler. He was one of the most recognized and respected futurists of the modern era. As we planned this event, we were conscious of our responsibility to his legacy.


Because of the incredible connections, questions, and perspectives that were shared by everyone who joined us, this event exceeded our vision and our hopes.


Reflecting Legacy and Building a Foundation for the Future

For many years, Alvin Toffler and his wife Heidi would host intimate gatherings of curious and accomplished friends and colleagues. Around their kitchen table, some of the leading minds of their time would engage in challenging, thoughtful, hopeful discussions about current economic and societal patterns, emerging realities, and alternate futures.


Future Shock Forum is a modern version of those vital kitchen table conversations. Invited leaders from across more than 20 industries and the public and private sectors came together for two days of energizing, solution-oriented conversations. They each brought unique perspectives and roles, but all shared the challenge of facing disruptive Future ShocksTM – changes that are accelerating at an unprecedented rate and reshaping businesses, societies, and economies.


Amid so much rhetoric about busting down silos and thinking across barriers, the event was a tangible and intimate opportunity for these individuals to consider the future and explore new ways to solve society’s hardest, most complex problems. In large and small groups, attendees contributed to dynamic dialogues about how complex global forces are shaping the future in general and in their organizations specifically.


The individuals who graced our ‘table’ represent the highest caliber leaders and thinkers of our era:

  • 1 Emmy award recipient
  • 1 Freedom of Press Award recipient
  • 1 former chairman and CEO of the world’s largest and most valuable Internet company
  • 5 Presidential appointees
  • 33 published books
  • 700+ published articles and blogs

These thoughtful, challenging, and respectfully provocative discussions touched on topics like what global diversity, innovation, and security will look like as traditional geopolitical models increasingly come under the control of a handful of dominant companies and countries. We narrowed the focus to examine the organizational and human implications of bio-digital convergence. We discussed necessary new approaches to unleashing and protecting human capital, IT, and other key infrastructure components as the boundaries between human and machine blur at an accelerating rate.


Thematically, we explored the ways that trust is changing in the midst of all of this transformation. As factors like hyperconnectedness, transparency, digital information glut, and even social media have produced a modern Tower of Babel, people and organizations are forced to listen, read, and process information in new ways in order to decide what warrants trust and why.


Throughout the event, participants challenged themselves and one another to find answers to ‘what’s ahead,’ ‘what if,’ and ‘so what’ related to some of these most salient Future ShocksTM:


  • Identifying, comprehending and anticipating geopolitical power shifts and the implications for business strategy and execution, safety, security and continuity
  • Embracing shared citizenship among public and private enterprise and the collective efforts to solve complex challenges
  • Harnessing a multitude of demographic and societal shifts impacting the workforce, education, and even value systems
  • Integrating bio-digital convergences in the processes of organizational decision making, strategy, workforce management, governance, relationship building, and innovations
  • Simultaneously protecting the integrity of our traditional critical infrastructure sectors while innovating modern physical and cyber infrastructures that are safe and reliable


The Toffler Associates Award for Excellence

In addition to engaging in productive discussions about ideation and innovation, we also used this year’s Future Shock Forum to celebrate the impact of one of the most prolific innovators of our time. During the kick-off dinner, we recognized Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC, as the 2016 recipient of the Toffler Associates Award for Excellence in Innovation. It was a pleasure to recognize the work he has done to support the development of disruptive, innovative companies – particularly because Mr. Case has shown deep mutual respect for Alvin Toffler.


“The magic of the Toffler work was the ability to communicate [these] critical matters in an accessible manner.”

(Steve Case, Future Shock Forum 2016)


Looking to the Future

As it has been in past years, Future Shock Forum 2016 was a unique opportunity for leaders and decision-makers to step off their current trajectory for a moment. These outstanding executives joined Toffler to take the time to discover clarity amid global complexity, to consider new and deep ideas, and to share their perspectives on future-oriented challenges.


Together, participants spent the time doing the head work that is fundamental to ensuring organizations can be resilient and Future ProofTM. We examined the importance of embracing change as part of creating a different, more successful future for all of humanity. We built a framework to understand, plan, and adapt to the events shaping our transformational era.


My greatest hope is that everyone who participated has taken these conversations back to their organizations, boardrooms, and break rooms. We desire that the cohort that was built over these two powerful days will remain connected and engaged in vital conversations, bringing real cross-experience perspectives to the process of finding new solutions to complex challenges.


For those who could not join us at Future Shock Forum 2016, we will continue to use this blog to share findings and perspectives on key topics. We invite you to contribute your voice to these conversations, and we hope you will consider joining us in 2017.

Consulting Firm Blog

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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