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Deborah Westphal

Exclusive interview with managing partner of Toffler Associates

Dr. Elinor Garely, eTN  Nov 14, 2010

The Future is Now

My inbox is overstuffed with forecasts for 2011 and beyond. If I am feeling optimistic, I can find data that supports my mood by assuring me that the tourism industry is once again on the path to growth and I no longer have to live on deposits from returning used soda cans. If I am in a pessimistic frame of mind, futurist gurus predict that the industry has no traction and it would be prudent to continue harvesting the crops in my community garden and offering soup casseroles on the dining room menu.

A Half-filled Glass

Optimists crowded the recent London trade show, while buyers and sellers convinced each other that the worst was over and consumers were tired of couch-sitting and ready to be x-rayed and body-scanned at airports, enjoy sardine-like comfort in mini-sized airline seats while enjoying the slightly salty taste of nuked cuisine that is priced only slightly higher than a gourmet land-based restaurant.

Truth is Travel

Assurances include promises that civil unrest has been negotiated away, terrorists have found new hobbies, bed bugs have been corralled and happily breeding in a remote undisclosed location and that in spite of slips on unpaved roads, and falls from faulty hotel balcony railings, regardless of the fact that the number of unemployed almost exceeds the US national debt, the world weather conditions (from volcanoes and hurricane to earth quakes and cyclones) are under the control of the scientists, global diseases (including the spread of cholera from Haiti and bird flu from Asia) are cured with injections of various chemicals, and the decline of the dollar and the yen is purely an economic phenomenon and not worth sleepless nights, the truth may be that the world is itching to explore new horizons and eagerly heading for every destination that has an airport, taxi, hotel, restaurant, spa, and swimming pool.

There is a Future: Remember Alvin Toffler

There are folks at Toffler Associates that really do have their collective fingers on the pulse of tomorrow. The Federal Government including all Defense services, Department of Defense agencies, the intelligence community, homeland security and a range of civilian organizations trust them to read the tea leaves and project tomorrow, today. Most of the staff maintains high-level security clearances with the US Defense Department, including clearances for access to Sensitive Compartmented Information. Whether it is access to a crystal ball or inside information, Toffler Associates, headed by Deborah Westphal has a history of “getting it right” more often than not.

The Toffler operation advises public and private sector VIPs on strategy, growth and innovation. “Change is hard,” according to Westphal. Current decisions are based on rules and assumption models that are historical while, “…the future requires whole new baselines” that cannot be found in textbooks. Westphal believes that evidence cannot be put into an established and comprehensible context making planning today for tomorrow extremely challenging.

According to Westphal the “early adopters” are developing and/or using products/services that are not currently available for public consumption. This same group has determined that the old ways are not working and are actively “…opening apertures that encourage cognitively different thinking,” that enables a new way to connect the dots. “It is hard to be a pioneer,” according to Westphal, “it is much easier to be a settler.” For many years corporations found it profitable to be “settlers” but thanks to the insight of Alvin Toffler, public and private organizations have been able to step into the future. Westphal finds that change has always been part of the environment; it is the acceleration that is shocking the collective system.

It is challenging to prepare people for the future and enable them to make better decisions that are not part of the currently popular skill-set. It is more comfortable, according to Westphal, to look backward than it is to look forward. Westphal believes that, in reality, the world is full of opportunities and companies that encourage change need to be looked at more closely and it is imperative that “…educational institutions assess new skill-sets that are multi-functional and non-linear.”

Travel Industry: What to Do Now

Westphal finds that travel and tourism industry executives will be multi-dimensional. They will come with experience in anthropology, geography, and multinational businesses if they are to understand the industry; the dots they are connecting will not be in the same format as before. These executives will have to look beyond trends if they are to be useful to their organizations. For example, Richard Branson’s’ focus on space travel and the convergence of hospitality, healthcare and food industries with links between western businesses and eastern medicine.

Westphal and Toffler refer to the integration of the service provider with the consumer, and coined the term “prosumer.” In this situation production is for self-consumption and decentralizes the concept of work. We are already living this process as we arrange our own holidays electronically and online (eliminating the job of travel agent), checking ourselves onto airlines and select our own seat (eliminating the airline reception position), scanning our purchases at the supermarket and department stores (eliminating the job of cashier) and with chips embedded in our clothing, food and pharmaceutical medications, marketers know where we are, what we do, what we eat, as well as our routes to and from the airport, business meetings, holidays and sick days.

More women will enter the workforce and fam-jobs (family) will increase with husband and wife teams working from home as project teams and profit centers. Organizations will seek out these couples as they will be emotionally-bonded and have a shared purpose, without the need for external motivation. In addition, hierarchies will be flattened and rule-followers will not be considered good workers.

Deborah Westphal, Managing Director, Toffler and Associates

Prior to joining Toffler and Associates, Westphal spent over 13 years with the US Air Force where she was the Deputy Director of Development Planning for the Space and Missile Systems Center. In this position she was involved in flight testing, advanced weapons and next generation space systems. Her expertise includes a concentration in the aerospace industry and her forecasts include future prospects in the materials, technology, transportation, security, telecommunications and electronics sectors.

In recognition of her achievements, she has awards from the California Air Force Association, a USAF Meritorious Civilian award and Air Force Association Medal of Merit. Her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering was earned at the University of New Mexico and she holds an MBA from Webster University as well as an executive education credentials from Harvard Business School and Wharton School of Business.

Exclusive interview with managing partner of Toffler Associates
Deborah Westphal, Managing Partner, Toffler Associates

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