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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.

Illustrations by Raymond Biesinger
Illustrations by Raymond Biesinger

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.

A version of this article appeared in the May 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.