Illustrations by Raymond Biesinger

Journal-ist: Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

This month, studies on advances in computer modeling for research and development, one way to become happier in the workplace, and the role of longevity in consumer choices.

a) Innovation is a game of not only imagination but also speed. To that end, Steve Stringer, in Research Technology Management, suggests that computer modeling, which can go down to the atomic level, may replace rather than just supplement conventional R&D. Traditionally, long hours of lab work and time-consuming "trial and error [have been] the keys to product innovation," he writes. But now, Stringer suggests that technology may be so advanced as to render lab tests and prototypes obsolete. Already, engineers in the metals industry can use computer models to simulate steel smelting, adding virtual chromium atoms to predict corrosion resistance, or to turn up the online thermostat to see how heat affects the metal's hardness and brittleness.

b) Given the state of the steel biz, a mill worker may not be the happiest person, but according to Mirjam van Praag and Peter Versloot in Small Business Economics, that's also because he isn't his own boss. Their meta analysis of 57 studies found that small-business owners and the self-employed are "significantly more satisfied with their work" than employees, even if they earn less. They also see a chance to make it big, a notion borne out by income data: The most successful entrepreneurs earn more than their employed-by-others counterparts.

c) Experience or change? It's a choice we've heard much about lately in politics, but in the consumer marketplace, it has long been assumed that established brands have an edge. A team led by Preyas Desai, writing in the Journal of Marketing, proved that in experiments involving movers and dog kennels. But they also discovered that longevity can be a negative. In one study, "participants were asked to imagine that they were planning to invest $10,000 in a mutual fund." Two funds, each with the same rate of return, were given as options; one was founded in 1977, the other in 1993. Investors targeting very high returns chose the younger, "because they view[ed] newer firms as having greater upside potential than older firms." The relative newcomer was seen as having more room to grow.

Illustrations by Raymond Biesinger

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  • Jay Tatum

    a. The great fallacy in the thinking of this first portion is that the data processed, catalogues, and easily referenced (thank you, Agent Muldur) by the computer gurus of this age is that the data is correct and that doing something faster is superior to the tried and true methods of research and development. While computer modeling may be a great way to employ technology in aiding humanity with alternatives, the human factors that contribute to the innovations in the first place cannot be overstated. I just can't see computer modeling without some fatal flaws like run-away technology gone mad. Don't get me wrong, I agree it can be done faster, and maybe even safer, but it seems a bit presumptuous to suggest that it can or will replace tradition is heresy! Whatever happened to the journey of discover? Will computer modeling deliver viable results without harm? And just who is making sure that all the factors contributing to the data are correct? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • Ray Gardner

    For reference, I'm a planner for a company that supplies to a much larger, international behemoth of an aerospace company.

    As if by plan, we routinely make the mistake of hiring someone from the "big" company only to see them crash and burn within weeks.
    In short, the big companies foster a bureaucratic like mindset that inculcates their people with a very narrow vision for themselves and their role in the company.
    A smaller company requires that nearly everyone - in management anyway - pick up whatever responsibility that happens to fall in their lap that day.
    A certain kind of lateral mobility is the best way to describe it I suppose, but the big company types never seem to adapt.

    This translates to more satisfaction on the job for the smaller company employees, and a sense of ennui for the larger company employees.

    Needless to say, we have a kind of unspoken contempt for long-term employees from the larger firms because of this.