The Information Age: (2) The Third Wave

John A.  Zachman
John A. Zachman Chief Executive Officer, Zachman International Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by John A. Zachman

This is the second in my series on the Information Age in the context of some well-known works by Alvin Toffler.  The second book Toffler wrote about change is "The Third Wave."  In this book he was contrasting the characteristics of the major 'Waves' of humanity:

In the Agricultural Wave, the basic discipline of humanity was Farming.

98% of humanity were farmers.
In the Industrial Wave, 2% of humanity are farmers.

In the Agricultural Wave, there were Rural Communities.

In the Industrial Wave, there are Urban Communities.

In the Agricultural Wave, there were natural sources of energy, Wind, Waves, Slaves, etc.

In the Industrial Wave, there are electric Motors, etc., etc.

It is not an extrapolation that occurs between the Ages, that is, it is not a volume issue, "more of the same."  It is a structural issue, a "step-function" change between the Ages … that is, they are different.  The word that is assigned to the intersection between the Ages is 'revolution'.  That is a pretty strong word!  The implications of the word are, tear all of this stuff down … we are going to start over again and this time we are going to do it differently!  You can read the history books about the Industrial Revolution and be really antiseptic about it … it was really tragic, all those French peasants getting shot up in the streets!

Do you understand the implications of this?  We are in the middle of the Information Revolution … who do you think the French peasants are in this Revolution?  Hey! … WE are the French peasants!!  I used to say, "Nobody is getting shot in the streets … yet!"  But, I don't say that anymore!  Read the newspapers … a LOT of people are getting shot up in the streets.  Some people want the Revolution to happen and some people don't want the Revolution to happen.  We are in the middle of a major, massive Revolution taking place, a global change, the magnitude of which the World has not seen since the Industrial Revolution two or three hundred years ago!

If you don't understand this and you make the assumption that it is just "more of the same" … that is a high risk assumption.  Because, if it is NOT actually more of the same, you are going to wake up one day and discover you are playing in the old game … and that is the day that the Revolution happens for you!  At that point it is too late.  You are out of the game.  Okay, Colonel … game over!!

Since 2008, the beginning of the present recession, a lot of little guys fell out of the game … in fact, a lot of the big guys fell out of the game.  In fact, not only Private Sector big guys but Public Sector big guys.  Small — Big, Private — Public … nobody was exempt.  Some of the big guys were too big to fail and got a massive infusion of capital from an external agency … but the question is, did that just postpone the revolution for them … or are those big guys actually changing their concepts and structures to play in the new Information Age game?  And, a number of Public Sector big guys fell out of the game!

We (most of us reading this today … even the young ones) are the last of the Industrial Age generation.  We have spent our entire lives in the Industrial Age.  We are walking around with Industrial Age glasses on, interpreting everything we see in the context of the Industrial Age.  We have the Information Age paradigm problem.

A very big problem is, these massive, global changes are hard to see on a day-to-day basis.  The sun keeps coming up in the East and going down in the West, comes up in the East and goes down in the West, comes up in the East and goes down in the West.  We get up, put on the same suit, the same tie, go to the same desk, write the same code … it doesn't look like anything has changed on a day-to-day basis.  It's a forest-and-trees problem.  You have to get far enough away to see the forest.  In the middle of the trees, everything looks like trees.

Another problem is, we are having difficulty seeing the characteristics of the Information Age even though they are present to be seen.  I call this the Captain Cook Syndrome … you can read about this in his logs in the British Museum.  When Captain Cook sailed into one of the harbors in New Zealand and dropped the anchor of the ship, the local people could not see the ship … because they had never seen a ship before!

We have the Captain Cook syndrome working on us … even though the characteristics of the Information Age are here, we are having trouble seeing them … because we never saw the Information Age before.  And, the Information people are the worst in this regard!  In fact, Information people tend to argue against doing what has to be done to be viable in the Information Age … because they know too much!  They know that you absolutely cannot do the things required to be viable in the Information Age … it would be impossible!  The argument boils down to, "It would take too long and cost too much!"  It is a real paradox when the Information people argue against what has to be done to be viable in the Information Age!  The argument is completely unfounded because it is deriving from 60 or 70 years of life experience in the Industrial Age, the "Manufacturing Paradigm."

There is an academic argument that it would take about 40 years to make the transition from one major global environment to another major global environment.  Where would they get 40 years? … Forty years is the scientific measurement for one life cycle … one lifetime.  You understand the implications … all the people who are alive during one Age would have to die before the world could transition to the next Age.  Actually, it would have to be longer than forty years because it is a classic four-stage learning curve … only humanity has to go through the learning curve.  There will likely be "Early Adopters," "Early Majority," "Late Majority," and "Laggards" (these are the ones that likely have to die) … etc.

This would suggest that even though we are in a period of intense instability, in another 20 (or 30 or 40 or some number of) years we will likely move into another relatively stable period for some hundred (or hundreds of) years or so.

I will cover the third part — "Powershift" — next time.  I think understanding these concepts are really important for Enterprise Architects.

This article can also be viewed on John's blog — presented here, with permission.

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Standard citation for this article:


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John A. Zachman , "The Information Age: (2) The Third Wave" Business Rules Journal Vol. 17, No. 2, (Feb. 2016)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2016/b849.html

About our Contributor:


John  A. Zachman
John A. Zachman Chief Executive Officer, Zachman International

John Zachman is the originator of the "Framework for Enterprise Architecture" (The Zachman Framework) which has received broad acceptance around the world as an integrative framework, an ontology for descriptive representations of Enterprises. Mr. Zachman is not only known for this work on Enterprise Architecture, but is also known for his early contributions to IBM's Information Strategy methodology (Business Systems Planning) as well as to their Executive team planning techniques (Intensive Planning).

Mr. Zachman retired from IBM in 1990, having served them for 26 years. He is Chief Executive Officer of his own education and consulting business, Zachman International® and Owner and Executive Director of the Federated Enterprise Architecture Certification Institute in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Zachman has been focusing on Enterprise Architecture since 1970 and has written extensively on the subject. He has directed innumerable executive team planning sessions. He travels nationally and internationally, teaching and consulting, and is a popular conference speaker, known for his motivating messages on Enterprise Architecture issues. He has spoken to many thousands of enterprise managers and information professionals on every continent.

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