By casting a wide net toward the future, we're forced to break out of our blind beliefs. What if typewriter makers had hired futurists to ponder the meaning of personal computers? What if union, government, and business leaders hadn't assumed manufacturing jobs would go to Mexico but asked, What about China? If biotech finds a cure for obesity, how would that change our eating habits? Are executives at fast food chains noodling this idea? Futurism done right can knock the cobwebs off our thinking, power up creativity, and perhaps point organizations toward accelerated prosperity.

"Some of our work is a wake-up call," adds futurist Roger Herman. "We try to help people expand their vision."

Exactly how far can vision be extended? Many futurists get skittish when horizons are pushed beyond 50 years because, frankly, the work begins to drift into science fiction. Who in 1950 would have forecast personal computers, wireless phones, two-income families, or global outsourcing of manufacturing and service jobs?

But some futurists do dive into very long-range assignments. EDS futurist Wacker spends most of his time consulting with companies on which technologies to invest in long-term, but occasionally a woollier project lands in his lap. A Dallas performing arts center asked him to help draft a long-range plan. How long? "Four hundred years," says Wacker. "They want to be in business that long. What they want to do, in effect, is predict what life would be like in 2000 back in 1600."

Impossible? Not for Wacker, who tossed out a tasty idea for the arts group to digest: "What if your audience were virtual? It could be in effect infinite. Shows could be beamed to people remotely" and, using the technology of 2400, the performances of course would be every bit as crisp and vivid as they are when seen live today. "Buildings may not matter in 2400," adds Wacker.