business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

I have a vague memory of having to learn the periodic table of elements when I took chemistry back at Iona Preparatory School in the late sixties and early seventies. I remember virtually nothing about the experience, other than hating it intensely. I never have been been big on memorization, and I’ve always been lousy at math and science ... so the notion of memorizing the periodic table was a really lousy combination.

That said, I was fascinated by a story in the Wall Street Journal this week saying that scientists have created two new elements - as yet unnamed - that need to be added to the table. (Creating, I suppose, an even longer list of elements to be memorized by high school students. feel their pain.)

According to the Journal, the new elements “were first formed during experiments conducted by a team of Russian and U.S. scientists at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, near Moscow, in 2004 and 2006. The new elements have 114 and 116 protons, respectively, in their nuclei and are the heaviest discovered so far.

“Scientists have been creating new elements since 1940, when neptunium and plutonium were first forged at the University of California, Berkeley. As more elements have been created, a pattern emerged: Each new element was radioactive, slightly heavier than the one before, and in general, more unstable. Eventually, scientists hope to discover new elements that might be stable, easily studied and, perhaps, offer commercially useful properties.

“Atoms of the two new elements - created in a clash of nuclear particles - lasted only milliseconds before decaying into simpler and more stable substances, making them hard to study and even harder to verify.”

At one level, I have no idea what the hell they’re talking about. But I’m still fascinated.

I sort of thought that the table of elements was a stagnant thing - it was what it was, and was not going to change.

But as the Journal story teaches us, change is inevitable. Everything can be challenged. And the biggest threat to what we think is so probably is something we don’t even know exists.

This seems to apply to the Periodic Table of Elements. And it certainly applies to virtually every business model. No matter what your business, it seems to me that you have to work on the premise that your advantages are going to be challenged, and likely that challenge will come from some entity you aren’t even aware of, or are worried about.

I did a little checking on the internet, and the Periodic Table of Elements looks a lot bigger now that it did 40 years ago when I first tried, with limited success, to memorize it.

Clearly, it isn’t locked in stone. It’s fluid. As is virtually every kind of business competition of which one can conceive.

And that’s an Eye-Opener.
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