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Single-molecule motor sits on a single-atom ball bearing

This article was first published on 2 January 2013.

I’ve posted this article as a gentle reminder to keep nano-technology on the radar when thinking about game-changing technologies.  The point is not so much the development of a single-molecule motor (that may or may not be a big deal itself) but rather the fact that breakthroughs continue to be made quietly in the background beyond the gaze of most business observers.  Moreover, nano-technology is the beneficiary of substantial funding and interest from governaments, universities, think-tanks and major corporations from around the world.  It’s not just a flash in the pan.

While it’s generally accepted that the most far-reaching developments in nanotechnology remain a long way off (perhaps more than 20 years), it’s also true that we’re already starting to see nanotech creep into a number of aspects of daily life (for example, nanoscale electronics, nano-wires, nano-sensors, nano-building-materials, nano-fabrics and nano-medicine).

It’s worth noting that the most far-reaching views on nano-technology envisage a world of molecular manufacturing in which nano-scale molecular machines are capable of using raw materials at the molecular level to reproduce almost any inanimate object.  The impacts of such technologies on industries and economies as we know them today are difficult to imagine.  It’s safe to say, however, that the upheavel would likely be massive.  The devlopment of a single-molecule motor, as described in this article, is just one more step along the path to molecular manufacturing and a reminder of the importance of keeping tabs on developments in this area.

In the short term, perhaps the key thouht for strategists is to make sure you stay focused on the distinction between the product/service you offer and the customer need/want that you’re actually aiming to satisfy.  To illustrate the point, laundry detergent manufacturers need to consider the impacts on their business of self-cleaning nano-fabrics in a world where the consumer’s real need is to have clean clothes, not to buy laundry detergent.  If you describe your business or industry in terms of your product rather than you customer’s fundamental needs you may well find your industry being rapidly redefined (new boundaries, new competitors, new value pools) by advance in nano-technololgy in coming years.

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