In my technical consulting days, I had an assignment with a large engineering company. Their problem was that they manufactured straddle carriers for stacking dockside containers and they were rather concerned that they kept failing resulting in some flat dock workers.
In the approved manner I did all the static and dynamic loading checks and came to the conclusion that the suspension chains were under-engineered and hence kept failing under load.
To make sure, I took my friend George to have a look at a straddle carrier in action locally. George, balding, hunched as usual in his gabardine raincoat, and inevitably smoking his pipe, took a look, shook his head, took another look and said:
You're right Ivan, it doesn't look right to me".
That was enough for me. While the calculations had given me the answer, the real answer came from a lifetime of experience and knowledge. This was true experience and George was able to give an opinion simply by drawing on that experience and knowing deep down that something just wasn't right.
On another occasion I was working with some executives who had been made redundant during an earlier recession and one of them claimed to be an accountant. It soon transpired that he was floundering so I dug a little into his background. He had qualified all right, and then had been made head of Purchase Ledger department in a large company. His experience over 25 years was actually one year's experience replicated 25 times.
Will Hopper, in his book The Puritan Gift, talks about "domain knowledge", that vital component which can only be developed in a company which typically promotes from within and treats promotion as the reward for performance. The "science" of management is a learned art and the best place to learn it is as one moves up through the levels of the business.
In my early apprentice days in the aircraft industry we had a Chief Designer whose constant mantra was: "If it looks right, it'll fly!", a classic case of confident "domain knowledge.
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