When legendary physicist Richard Feynman was called in to help solve the mystery of the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986, he didn't use advanced maths. Instead, according to his account, he went and talked to the engineers. The workers who actually built the space shuttle, he found, had a good idea of which parts were likely to fail. Talking to them helped point Feynman towards a flaw in the rubber O-ring joints, which everyone eventually realised was the cause.

This story illustrates a more general principle. Workers have a lot of knowledge about the day-to-day operations of the businesses they sustain. Salespeople know what customers want, and how buyers decide to make purchases. Assembly-line workers know how to speed up manufacturing and prevent defects. Engineers know how to redesign products, and so on. These are things that executives and top managers may overlook. And if a business or product line is struggling, executives may sell it off or downsize instead ...

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