“It takes all kinds of people“

The topic is process, or process philosophy. What role does time play? Do Germans and Americans have the same understanding of long- , mid- and short-term? A rhetorical question. No need to think long about it. The differences are obvious in so many areas.

Wasn‘t it Herr Wiedeking, the Vorstandsvorsitzender (not CEO) of Porsche, a few years back who suprised the financial world by stating that Porsche would supply their numbers just twice a year, making a clear statement about short-term thinking?

Aren‘t the two cultures of different ages in general? Back when the so-called Indians (the indigenous peoples of North America) were saving the first generations of European settlers to the „New World“ from starvation the Germans had a centuries-old history.

The speed in the U.S. is faster

In a previous story we discuss the older, deeper-seated German historical consiousness. The Germans think in longer time stretches than Americans, which can be both a strength and a weakness. The terms Permanenz and permanence have different meanings. Think about how often Americans pick up and move within the U.S., buy and sell houses. How often they identify, evaluate and engage business partners such as suppliers, only to disengage them just as quickly.

The speed at which Americans make acquaintenances and friends (meet, get to know, befriend) is much faster than in Germany. Or think of the financial world again. To make an investment, then hold or sell is not the same as in the U.S. The clocks aren‘t the same. Long-term in the U.S. is mid-term in Germany. Mid- is short-term. American short-term doesn‘t even exist in Germany.

In the American business culture it is almost always better to make a suboptimal decision quickly than to make an optimal decision late or too late. Suboptimal, but timely, decisions can be corrected or improved upon in time. Usually.

Combine inherent strengths

Not long ago I was executing a seminar at a location in Germany for a German client. It was in the Lichthof (atrium) of a beautiful building erected at the turn of the 18th to the 19th century. Big, open space. Very high ceiling made of glass. Sunlight shining in. Inspiring. During the session on decision making a German manager was walking by, one who had done a long-term (three years) in the U.S.

He stopped, listened, saw the sceptical expressions on faces of his German colleagues and walked over and stood next to me (we had worked together on a few projects), then said to the group: „It‘s really not that complicated. The Americans make decisions quickly, often too quickly. So what? The bad decisions they revise just as quickly. That doesn‘t bother anyone in the least. It‘s nothing to be embarrassed about. We should be able to do that, too.“ Some nodded in agreement. Others just shook their heads in dismay.

My goal is not to make Americans out of Germans or the other way around. It wouldn‘t work anyway. And it would be rather dumb. The world needs Germans, their way of thinking, their character traits. The world also needs Americans, their ways of thinking and their character traits. Our goal is to understand the inherent strengths of the two peoples, in order to combine them.

The first step is, however, to identify and understand them, in each of their respective national cultural contexts. Perhaps there is a step even prior to that: to accept the fact that there are such things as national cultural characteristics (yes, traits). German, American, French, Mexican, Chinese, Brasilian and so on and so forth. 

Just as there are in Bavarians, Franks, Rhinelanders, as well as Hamburgers, Brandenburgers, Saxons and Anhaltiner. And let‘s not forget the Berliners with their Berliner Schnautze. As my mother would say: „It takes all kinds of people to make the world go around“.

“It takes all kinds of people“