Editor's Note: The Future Is Here And It's Verrry Small - InformationWeek
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5/10/2002
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Stephanie Stahl
Stephanie Stahl
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Editor's Note: The Future Is Here And It's Verrry Small

Call it science-fiction. Call it an extension of Moore's Law. Call it hype. Call it a way to potentially turn the planet to gray goo (though you may want to call that paranoia while you're at it). Call it whatever you want, but it's time to take a closer look at nanotechnology.

The ability to build molecular-level machines likely inspires visions of mad scientists in white coats poring over microscopes examining things too tiny to even imagine. But nanotechnology is finding its way out of the labs and into products that affect our daily lives, such as sunscreen, waterproof clothing, and even carbonated drinks. But it certainly goes beyond the stuff you might take to the beach or on a hike, and has also found its way into products such as windows and the running boards of cars. Next stop--information technology.

In the words of one CIO, nanotechnology has the potential to become one of those disruptive technologies that will dramatically change the way you do business. To learn more, see associate editor David Ewalt's report on page 42.

Disruptive technologies, according to the foremost authority on the subject, Clay Christensen of the Harvard Business School, are typically inexpensive and simple, but can make a significant change in the way we humans do things. A new report from Computer Sciences Corp. refers to such technologies as "digital disruptions" that will transform practically everything--the way people are informed, entertained, and even healed, according to Jim Skinner, the author of the report.

But the potential impact on business models is also intriguing. Mark Johnson, who co-founded Innosight LLC with Christensen, stresses that the disruption isn't in how the core technology is applied, but rather in the business model that's wrapped around it. These technologies let companies build models that serve the market in unique, more convenient, and more cost-effective ways, he says.

But they might also turn entire industries upside down. Think about the impact of manufacturers using nanotechnology in automobile tires so they never wear out. That's good news for you and me--no need to rotate tires every 8,000 to 10,000 miles or replace them when the tread starts to disappear. But what does that mean for companies that sell tires? Does that create a new market for people who reinstall your tires every time you buy a new car? Or businesses that let you trade various tires based on car model?

Stay tuned for more on disruption. In next month's issue of Optimize magazine, our sister publication, Christensen will explore ways for business-technology managers to capture intuitive ideas and use them to shape disruptive growth.

Stephanie Stahl
Editor
sstahl@cmp.com

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