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Anticipating the Impact of Nanotechnology Developments on Organizations and Industry Structure:
Lessons from Innovation Management Research

Christine Shea*

School of Business & Economics, University of New Hampshire,
Durham, NH 03824 USA

This is an abstract for a presentation given at the
11th Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology


Enabled by the convergence of physics, chemistry, biology, materials science, and engineering principles and tools, nanotechnology is the fabrication and integration of nanoscale (1-100 billionths of a meter) structures into larger materials, components, and systems. At this scale, control over matter is exerted at the level of its basic building blocks — atom, molecule, nanostructure — and everything is possible, including the manipulation of the basic properties of materials, which have heretofore been immutable.

Leading experts agree - advances in nanotechnology are spawning a revolution that will lead to dramatic changes in the way materials, devices and systems are understood and created. Global revenues from nanotechnology-based materials and processes in the manufacturing, electronics, pharmaceutical, chemical and transportation industries are expected to surpass one trillion dollars per year within the next decade. The impact of nanotechnology-based innovations on industry is expected to be so vast that it has become commonplace for technical experts in the area to describe all such innovations using words such as disruptive and radical. However, not all nanotechnology developments will spawn the implications suggested by these two terms.

Prior innovation management research has learned a great deal about how different types of innovations affect organizations and industries. For example, radical innovations render existing competencies obsolete and are usually more devastating to incumbent firms than incremental innovations. At the same time, they provide new entrants a pathway into industries that they may previously have been barred from entering. Firms with technologies nearing the end of their technological progress curves are more likely to embrace and succeed with new technologies than those whose technologies are still relatively new. Disruptive innovations may be entirely overlooked by incumbents who are likely to lose out to new entrants as the innovation improves and overtakes existing markets. To understand the potential impact of nanotechnology-based innovations on firms and industries, we must first describe their type and characteristics in a way that is consistent with the innovation management literature.

The objective of this paper is to describe the characteristics of anticipated nanotechnology-based innovations and to predict their impact on existing firms and new entrants in various industries based on innovation management literature. By bridging science, engineering, and management, this line of inquiry is expected to be useful to decision makers affected by nanotechnology in assisting them in the formulation of innovation management strategies.

Abstract in Microsoft Word® format 21,830 bytes

*Corresponding Address:
Christine Shea
School of Business & Economics, University of New Hampshire
McConnell Hall
Durham, NH 03824 USA
Phone: (602)862-3322 Fax: (602)862-3833


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