Nimble, small companies may own the future of U.S. business, but not if they're so consumed by day-to-day operations that they can't anticipate large trends.

In Future Edge (William Morrow, 1992, $25), author Joel A. Barker suggests a three-step exercise to help you stay alert:

1. Ask yourself and your employees, What is impossible to do in my industry but, if I could do it, would change everything? For a glass company, the answer might be, Pour glass on-site.

2. Share the question and your answers with your suppliers. They may already be able to execute the "impossible."

3. Ask your employees if each would read an extra publication each month if you paid for the subscription. Ask them to scan their publications for technological, database, and other developments that could improve your company's products and services.

-- Ellen E. Spragins