Answers aren't blowing in the wind, nor are they in crystal balls or tea leaves. But futurists can narrow the universe of business choices and spark some creative thinking about which course to follow.
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE FUTURISTIC about selling Slurpees, Big Gulps, and doughnuts? Everything to Keith Morrow, vice president of information systems for 7-Eleven, Inc., operator of some 5,800 convenience stores in North America. The success of 7-Eleven hinges on its ability to let consumers buy what they want, the way they want, when they want, and these desires are constantly, continually changing in unexpected ways. Anticipate those changes, sell more. Miss them, and products gather dust.

"At the right point - not too soon, not too late - we want to be able to jump into technology just when consumers and our store managers will benefit," Morrow explains. "That's why we consistently think about the future."
And that's why he hires futurists from Electronic Data Systems to help the company see past today's business and into tomorrow's. Says Jeff Wacker, an EDS futurist who guides 7-Eleven, "We help the company make sure it will continue to have the right products on the shelves when a customer walks in. We also help them make sure they are in the right locations and that they are anticipating changing customer tastes."
Keeping pace with those tastes these days has 7-Eleven delving into payment cards "loaded" with electronic cash, which customers can use to buy cigarettes, soft drinks, and newspapers without hunting in their pockets for change. It's also looking at micropayment technologies that could let customers buy Slurpees with a wave of their cellphones. And it's continually tinkering with its merchandise. For instance, the stores are now selling more fresh foods; "we believe there's a real opportunity," Morrow says.