Future Perfect

Stanley Davis’ new book is written in a style which seems to have become contagious since the publication of THE THIRD WAVE in 1980. Like Alvin Toffler’s best-seller, FUTURE PERFECT dazzles the reader with random examples of how products and services are changing because of technological innovations. This breathless technique, which makes the reader feel as though he is on some new ride at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland with futuristic images flashing past his cockpit, tends to create the impression that the author understands the future better than he probably does. In the final analysis, Davis’ advice to managers is nebulous: They must “learn to manage the beforemath; that is, the consequences of events that have not yet occurred.” As if he realizes that the gray-haired manager on the firing line may be having trouble enough with events that are already occurring, Davis writes that the American educational system needs to start producing a new breed of managers who are comfortable with the nontraditional “right brain” thinking the economy of the future will demand. In other words, he is preaching the need to manage the consequences of events that have not yet occurred to managers who have not yet been born.

Davis has good credentials. He is president of his own consulting firm, has served on the faculty of Harvard Business School and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business, and is currently a research professor at Boston University. He is the author of five previous books, all of which are of a more pragmatic nature than his latest. FUTURE PERFECT has little to say that was not covered in THE THIRD WAVE. It is clear by now that we are well into the “postindustrial stage” of social evolution. Computerization, robotization, and other applications of electronic technology are eliminating traditional jobs at a rapidly accelerating rate. The United States Department of Commerce has predicted that by the year 2001 a whopping 93 percent of American workers will be employed in the so-called service sector. This fact strongly suggests that international business competition will focus on service to customers and that American managers had better start learning to improve their undistinguished track record. Most of the examples of twenty-first century merchandising with which FUTURE PERFECT is replete represent improvements in speed, convenience, selection, and dependability. The future looks perfect for the consumer but fraught with headaches for the manager.