Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Social Networks Key to Harnessing Nanoscience Knowledge Explosion

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Social Networks Key to Harnessing Nanoscience Knowledge Explosion

Article excerpt

Given the exploding information on nanoscience, how are managers seeking and finding this knowledge? Predominately through the operation of social networks is the conclusion of an ongoing investigation by the Industrial Research Institute's Research-on-Research Committee, in conjunction with researchers from the Center for Innovation Management Studies at North Carolina State University, Raleigh.

The IRI-CIMS study is focusing on nanoscience as a case example of a new and broader paradigm in technology knowledge creation: the information tsunami. Understanding the management issues around this phenomenon should enable companies to commercialize emerging technologies more effectively.

Recognizing the centrality of social networks to nanoscience, for example, suggests that management needs to "open the aperture" for its scientists and engineers by: 1) encouraging the expansion of their professional networks; 2) spanning the boundaries between disciplines; and 3) participating in the relevant industry-government-university activities, including the Consultative Board for Advancing Nanotechnology (CBAN) and the various National Nanotechnology Centers.

This is the third "Perspectives" report on the study. The first reported the explosive growth over the past several years in global nanoscience and technology R&D funding, and the huge economic gains it promises (RTM, May-June 2004, pp. 6-8). The second described the approaches several organizations are taking to scan for and use nanoscience knowledge (RTM, May-June 2005, pp. 3-7). In this article, we report on what we have learned in the past year about how organizations seek and find information in the earliest phase of emerging technologies.

Funding for Nano Research

Government labs and universities have been the recipients of extensive funding for nano-related research. Actual spending under the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative for 2004 was $989 million, and an estimated $1,081 million for 2005 (www.nano.gov). Globally, companies have also invested heavily. It is at this early point in the emergence of a technology that corporate managers seek information about the science as well as about how other organizations are approaching potential uses of the science (1).

Using the Familiar Network

We learned that scientists and managers do not necessarily seek out the highest-quality sources of nanoscience information; rather, they access the information they are aware of and can find easily. From formal interviews with 11 managers at eight Industrial Research Institute global member companies, we learned that researchers and managers tend to talk with colleagues and to attend those conferences with which they are familiar. Individual contributors gather information about nanotech developments by attending conferences, reading papers and maintaining personal networks.

Several companies have formal competitive intelligence groups that search the research and business literature as well as patents, but these groups do not have personnel specifically dedicated to information gathering and analysis specific to nanoscience and nanotechnology. All respondents in our interviews noted that in this early stage of the science, information gathered informally seems to be used more and to have more influence than the output from formal competitive intelligence departments.

Interviewees made clear that they valued social networks and talking with experts. A research area we will be addressing next looks at the current processes, tools and metrics used in the boundary-spanning activities of individuals within their current social networks. Then we will be doing work on developing new social networks and structuring information exchanges to be more productive and helpful to the participants.

Ventures and Vendors

Some companies find that information on nanotech developments comes from prospective vendors who want the company to evaluate their products. …

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