Last week, I stumbled upon a fascinating article suggesting the best way to board an airplane is not from back to front as commonsense might suggest. Instead, the most efficient method is to allow passengers to board 10 at a time in every other row. The advantage of this innovative approach is that people are able to load their luggage more quickly -- thus alleviating the largest source of time congestion in boarding a plane.
The study might seem inconsequential, but I'd like to suggest otherwise. If passengers can board more quickly, not only are they happier (which is something that I would think, but am not always sure, airlines desire), but quicker boarding might allow airlines to either schedule additional daily flights on some of the more popular routes or reduce the number of gates that an airline requires. Although, this might not have a material impact on the profits of airlines, it could improve the customer experience for passengers on Southwest
On a broader level, the finding points to how even more mature industries can perform old activities in new and innovative ways.
Squeezing more oil from corn
For example, this month, agricultural scientists at DuPont
The former could be a boon to the rapidly growing biofuels industry and might lead to a sizeable increase in profit for a company such as BP
It has been said that the best gifts come in small packages. If so, then IBM's
This is because both industries are in a never-ending quest to develop nanoscale devices, including computer chips and atomic-level storage. To this end, Intel
To succeed in these ventures, it will help greatly to understand how much force is required to move and store individual atoms, and this latest breakthrough from Big Blue might be just the thing to push the semiconductor and data storage industries to the next level.
Foolish bottom line
Whether it's boarding an airplane, growing corn, or building a new computer processor, advances in computer modeling, genomics, and nanotechnology, as well as a host of other fields -- including robotics, RFID, and rapid prototype manufacturing -- are all poised to transform the business and investing landscape.
My advice: Don't just look for "the next big thing." Instead, concentrate on how more modest advances in technology can lead to more immediate process improvements or increases in performance. Both can quickly transfer to a company's bottom line.
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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is the author of two books on nanotechnology. His latest book is Jump the Curve: 50 Strategies for Helping Companies Deal with Emerging Technologies. He owns stock in Boston Scientific. Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value Selection. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.