By John Magee
Perfectionism is an approach. One cannot understand that approach without first understanding the Problemverständnis – literally ‘problemunderstanding’ or comprehension/definition of problem – which the approach is addressing. The German understanding or comprehension of a product and of its production is rooted in the European tradition of craftsmanship.
In that centuries-old European tradition the prototype of all production processes was nature itself, created by God, perfect in every way. Artisans, since the Renaissance, viewed themselves as imitating nature. In the Modern Era this tradition has been continued by mechanical-mathematical technology (engineering) and the natural sciences (for example, chemistry).
Nature is the perfect process which man attempts to reconstruct. Technical progress, which has always been understood as progress in production methods and work processes, sees itself as the mental-intellectual penetration of the processes and laws of nature.
And because nature knows but only one process in order to reach optimal results (Einstein: “God does not throw dice.”), which man calls natural law or laws of nature, man is forever in search of that one, right, correct, optimal process.
So, whenever Germans speak of quality, they do so in the sense of its original meaning: craftsmanship, the way in which something has been worked, crafted, created. In this sense, the quality of a product is one and the same with its work process, how it was worked, how the work was performed.
The work process determines the workmanship of an object. It is the way in which the material is formed, pressed, engraved. To orient workmanship on the perfection of objects created by nature is to be a perfectionist.
Germans continue to be process-oriented perfectionists. Not so much – or not consciously – because they believe in the God-given natural order of things, as all Europeans did back in the Middle Ages and in the Early Modern Era.
But because the way of thinking over the centuries has formed, shaped, oriented the Germans. It has engraved in and on them how to think, organize themselves, and how to work in this way.