The futurist Alvin Toffler wrote the book The Third Wave in 1980 to explain the evolution of societies through various stages or “waves.” The premise of his book was that “human history, while being complex and contradictory, can be seen to fit patterns or what he calls three waves that describe the changes in civilization.”

  • First Wave – Agrarian Revolution which lasted for thousands of years.
  • Second Wave – Industrial Revolution that lasted for 300 years.
  • Third Wave – Information Age which started in 1960 and continues today.

His insights helped us understand the interconnection between different fields of study like sociology, technology, politics, environment and more.

In 1993 the book The Fourth Wave was published that described the emergence of a new world view. One that is characterized by a “shift in consciousness, disenchantment with science, new inner sources of authority and power, rise of spirituality, a decline in materialism , the spreading of political and economic democratization, and a movement beyond nationality.”

  • Fourth Wave – Global Perspective integrating business and social responsibility.

The emergence of this fourth wave is leading us into a new era of social transformation.

Although each wave before this can stand on its own, the real value for the 21st Century Economy is the integration of aspects from all four waves into one.

In many ways Social Intrapreneurship embodies all four waves. Not necessarily a new wave but an integration of business thought and action that leverages the best of each wave.

We think of the agrarian revolution has one defined by hunters, gathers and farmers. It is also characterized by people moving together into villages and creating a new culture. Very much like the communities of like-minded people that band together today for a common good. They share a passion and purpose for creating something that benefits everyone in the community. Creating communities and social value is an integral part of social intrapreneurship.

The industrial revolution brought us the corporation, mass production, economies of scale, standardization, and centralization. The bureaucracy emerged as a new style of organization. Power was concentrated at the top. This wave also taught us how to be efficient, increase productivity, leverage technology and achieve financial success. These skills enabled us to be more effective, more targeted, and more profitable. Making money will always be part of the business equation. Doing well, by doing good embodies part of that equation. Social intrapreneurship combines the social and financial aspect of business.

The third wave, the information age is characterized by knowledge. The advent of the internet has not only increased our access to information it continues to expanded the amount of information available to us. The technology enables us to access information, anytime from anywhere. Information has leveled the playing field. It also enables us to identify problems more quickly, address disasters as they happen, and shine the spot light on injustice, inequity and world problems. Social and environmental problems are more visible. Information and access to it has put pressure on organizations to take ownership and responsibility for being more socially conscious. Social intrapreneurs are helping organizations understand what role they can play.

Many would contend that we are still in the third wave but it is clear that there is a new world-view. What author Herman Maynard Jr. speaks to in his book the Fourth Wave, and describes as “a shift in consciousness.” What for many is a new awakening, a new acknowledgement that things are not working, there are too many problems that need to be solved, too many people being left behind, too much power in too few hands, too much devastation and destruction to our environment. These are the very things that social intrapreneurs are focused on changing. Social intrapreneurs are taking the lead in moving us into this new world view – the fourth wave.

The first three waves have led us to this point and have made all this visible to us. It’s not looking back as much as it is coming full circle. Embedding the best of each wave into a new way of working, transforming business, and creating social and economic value that are changing business thought and action.

Social intrapreneurship embodies the best aspects of all four waves. It sets the stage for this transformation. It won’t be easy, nor will it be fast but it will be exciting and rewarding for those organizations that embrace it.

The challenge for most organizations will be letting go of the past while creating the future. This is a major transformation.   It requires a significant shift in the way organizations operate. It will take a new type of leader.

Social intrapreneurship requires taking a fresh look at how you do business. Leveraging the best of the past, integrating the present, while leading us into the future – to the next wave – the 5th wave.


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