Breadth and depth means gathering, analyzing and presenting alot of information. The semester papers at the Freie Universität Berlin, where I received my M.A. in History, were really long. One submitted by a graduate student was over eight-five pages!
The longest one I had ever written at Georgetown University was twenty, which back in 1980 was not considered short. My German Master’s thesis was one-hundred and twenty. Some doctoral theses in Germany go well beyond five-hundred pages. An American Ph.D. advisor would most likely not even accept such a tome.
It’s not much different in German print media. Even if you were to remove the advertising, weekly magazines here are very long. Who has the time to read all of that material? Over a five-year period I read Die ZEIT. A first-class weekly newspaper on politics, business, culture, and the arts.
But the length of the articles was simply too much. To Americans the Germans are simply too long-winded. TV and radio segments are long and detailed. The interactions among guests on talk shows can be painfully long. Yes, German books are excellent. But it would be equally excellent to leave out all irrelevant content.
Everyday interactions among the people are not much different. If you get lost in an American city and ask a stranger for directions, the response is typically brief. Often the person gives practical and effective advice: “Go three blocks down, turn right, cross over Main Street, then ask another person how to continue from there.”
That’s perfect! No need to listen to a long-winded speech. Nor to remember it. Saves time. Saves brain-power. You simply ask the next person a few minutes later. It also reduces the risk of mistakes. Germans are very helpful. But when they give long, detailed answers to relatively simple questions, I think: “My goodness, am I the stupid one or does this perfectly nice person not consider what a guy from out of town can possible remember?”
If the approach taken is systematic – in the sense of everything is connected to everything else – then there is no alternative to gathering information in breadth and depth, in order to analyze all of the decision-making possibilities.
And all of this information should be from objective sources. Objectivity. This is another roter Faden (literally red thread, or common theme) in German thinking.
My impression is that Germans see information primarily as data. And data should be scientific. Measurable, quantifiable, independent of intuition. To gather information in depth and breadth means to gather facts in depth and breadth.
And, in order to analyze those facts in a competent way you need the right analytical tools. Another area of contention between Germans and Americans in their collaboration. For tools are the manifestation of how people, disciplines (i.e. engineering, marketing), companies, and cultures, fundamentally think.
You can get a sense of the work performed by a carpenter, a machine-tool maker, a baker, an architect, of a thinker of any kind, by looking at their tools. In Germany rigor is a key to quality and to success. Quality has to do with processes. And processes have to do with tools. Many tools. And they are fine, as in precise. Precision. For all processes are work processes. And work is supported by physical and mental tools. Rigor, therefore, means mastering a craft, physically and mentally.