Systematic Thinkers

Systematic thinking is the foundation of all research. Germany has produced many great thinkers in the natural and social sciences. They are best known for their systematic approach.

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was the daughter of German nobility, but decided at an early age to join the Benedictine nuns. She went on to become one of the best educated and wisest of her era, advising secular and religious leaders throughout Europe. Hildegard’s fields of expertise ranged from theology to medicine, music, ethics and cosmology. Her discoveries and insights in the area of plant-based medicines are referred to today.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of the leading philosophers of the Enlightenment Age. His Kritik der reinen Vernunft is considered to be the starting point of modern philosophy, creating a new, systematic approach to inquiry. Kant addressed not only the theory of knowledge, but also ethics and aesthetics, the philosophy of religion, law and history, as well as astronomy and the geosciences.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is considered to this day to be the greatest of all German writers. His work encompassed, however, also the natural sciences including botany, optics and the philosophy of color – Farbenlehre.

Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was a Prussian General and military theorist. His Vom Kriege (On War) a systematic approach to strategy, tactics and the philosophy of war, became the foundation of military thinking in all Western nations. Clausewitz’ writings went beyond how wars are won to address the overall nature and meaning of war in the modern world.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) is renowned as a philosopher, political economist and social critic. Together with Friedrich Engels, Marx analyzed during the height of the industrial revolution the mutual influences and interactions between a society‘s consciousness and its economic system. Although Marxism has proven to fail in practice, it led to what many would consider significant social progress in public education, health care, social legislation. Marx’ writings contributed to the creation of labor unions.

Max Weber (1864-1920) was a German sociologist, legal scholar, and political economist. He is considered a founding father of modern sociology. Weber’s theories influenced greatly the so-called specialty areas of sociology: economics, religion, political power structures.

Karl Rahner (1904-1984) is considered to be the most influential Catholic theologian since Thomas Aquinas. His work opened up Catholic theology to a new and deeper understanding of faith. Rahner’s thinking influenced greatly the Second Vatical Council. Inspired by his studies under Martin Heidegger, Rahner synthesized Catholic theology with the philosophies of the modern era.

Turnkey systems

A turnkey solution is a total solution which allows the user to “turn a key and the system is ready to go”. Originating in the IT sector, turnkey systems include all necessary hardware and software. They are typically developed by original equipment manufacturers (OEM).

Germans prefer turnkey systems, as the receiver of the system, whether they are in the buiness-to-consumer or business-to-business context. Conversely, Germans prefer to develop and market turnkey systems. In fact, many German manufacturers will go as far as to make their own tools and machines, in order to make the products they then sell.

Abstract

Impersonal, detached; difficult to understand; theoretical; insufficiently factual; no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content.

Objective: expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.

To be scientific, academic, scholarly in the German context means to be objective and abstract. Objectivity, in turn, means to be unbiased, free of value judgement. Germans do their best to avoid communicating their personal opinion. They address the subject matter as an objective neutral. If it all, personal opinion is communicated at the conclusion and as discreetly as possible.

German school textbooks rarely explain their content via concrete examples. The focus is on principles which are explained only sparingly in case studies. Mathematical formulas and abstract statements are preferred.

This is also the case when German learn foreign languages. They first learn the grammar, then apply those rules to writing and finally to speaking.

Holistic

Especially important to Germans is explaining connections, relationships and interdependencies. This signals that the presenter has understood the subject matter in its entirety. A holistic understanding, in turn, is based on a clear, methodical, systematic approach.

In contrast, a particularistic approach – breaking down complexity into its component parts and focusing on the most important – gives the Germans the impression that the whole has not been sufficiently understood.

Germans are taught at a young age to look for connections, relationships and interdependencies. Teaching methods and materials in primary schools stress analysis and discussion of the bigger picture. An approach based on particulars and examples is used with only younger pupils.

The focus on the system – on relationships and interdependencies – is further developed at the university level. Both at the beginning and the end of any presentation, whether written or oral, the subject and the analysis results are placed in their overall context, including analysis from related fields of study.

Analysis

A separation of a whole into its component parts; the identification or separation of ingredients of a substance; a statement of the constituents of a mixture; proof of a mathematical proposition by assuming the result and deducing a valid statement by a series of reversible steps; an examination of a complex, its elements, and their relations; a method in philosophy of resolving complex expressions into simpler or more basic ones.

In their curriculum vitae (resumé) German job applicants highlight their analytical abilities, knowing well that German employers value those skills especially.

Theory

The analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another; abstract thought; the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art; a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action; an ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances; a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena; a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation.

Germans feel very comfortable using theory to explain the relationships and interdependencies of particulars. Theory allows for understanding the “big picture.“

Bismarck’s Treaty System

Otto von Bismarck was Chancellor of the German Reich from 1871 until 1890. He is best known for a complex web of treaties with the other European powers – France, Great Britain, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Tsarist Russia. These treaties allowed Germany to grow industrially and militarily without provoking attack by any combination of those rival powers.

Bismarck’s diplomacy ending the Balkan Crisis of 1879 increased Imperial Germany’s international prestige, at the same time limiting Czarist Russia‘s influence in that region. Anticipating a frustrated Moscow, Bismarck wisely sought protection from Austro-Hungary via a mutual defense treaty signed in 1879, a treaty relationship which would hold until the end of the First World War.

In 1881 Bismarck pulled off another diplomatic coup by reducing tensions with Tsarist Russia and signing a treaty of mutual defense with Moscow, thereby preventing a possible anti-German coalition between Russia and France. Bismarck extended this system of alliances in 1882 by crafting a treaty involving the German Reich, Austro-Hungary and Italy, adding Rumania in 1883, defending against a possible French-British alliance against Germany.

Unfortunately, this complex, brilliantly devised system of treaties would fall apart not long after the young and impulsive Kaiser, Wilhelm II., took power and decided that Bismarck‘s time had come to an end. Wilhelm II. went on to antagonize and provoke Europe‘s powers in all the ways in which Bismarck had worked so hard to avoid. In August 1914 the Great War began.

Warning: It’s complicated.

Turned on its head

The Germans are criticized for “thinking things to death”, for overanalyzing. Deep analysis has a long and honored tradition in Germany, however. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, just as one example, wanted to turn Hegel’s philosophy “on its head.”

It is the goal of all great thinkers to explain reality as it is, and not the other way around, to force reality into their theories. All new situations and phenomena should be explainable, at a minimum placed in some logical perspective.

Thinking in systems, in connections and in mutual interdependencies is a red thread (a constant theme) in German philosophy, from Kant to Hegel to Max Weber on to Karl Popper and others of today. It is stressed in schools and universities in all subject areas.

Theoriekapitel

Theorie is theory. Kapitel is chapter, as in a book.

In German universities it is expected not only in B.A. and M.A. theses, but also in course term papers, that the second chapter, after the introduction, be devoted to theory, the so-called Theoriekapitel.

In it the author demonstrates that she is aware (conscious) of the complexity of the subject matter, that she understands that subject matter in the broader context of current research on it, and most importantly that she can durchdringen (penetrate) that complexity.

Complexity costs money !

March 13, 2015. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Germany’s leading daily newspaper. Wirtschaft (business section). Page 20. An image takes up almost the entire bottom half of the page. All sorts of computer equipment wires tangled up in a ball.

The background colors are dark, heavy. “KOMPLEXITÄT. Kostet Unternehmen im Durchschnitt 10% ihres Gewinns.” (COMPLEXITY. Costs companies on average 10% of their annual profit)

Page 21. To the right. Another image. Again, just about the entire bottom half of the page. A young woman, perhaps thirty years old, sits in jeans and a blouse, with a tablet in her hands. Half-smiling, focused. The background colors are yellowy, bright, hopeful. “EINFACH. Hilft sparen.” (SIMPLICITY. Helps saving).

At the bottom left of the secon ad: the well-known SAP logo with their motto: Run Simple. SAP. German. One of the world’s leading enterprise software companies. The message: We know how to handle complexity. Let us do it for you.

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