Systematic thinking is one of the strongest of German character traits. It‘s a red thread woven in and through all of the topics CI addresses.
I think of the many Germans in my seminars and workshops. I observe their tendency time and again. I separate the Americans and the Germans into separate breakout groups, pass out their assignments. They have an hour and a half to think, discuss and prepare their presentation on flip-charts, after which they give their presentations and discuss.
The breakout. What do the Germans invariably do? They get very quiet, focused, read the assignment carefully, ask me clarification questions. No detail is unimportant. After they have taken whatever amount of time is needed to read and reflect, they begin to discuss among themselves: respectful, quiet, their body language still. They listen attentively to each other, seldom interrupt. I observe, listen in, stand nearby in case they need help.
Germans analyze from 30k foot perspective
Even though I know how the Germans will proceed, it surprises me, nonetheless. It is foreign to me. It impresses and fascinates me still. The atmosphere in their breakout groups is like a graduate- or Ph.D.-level seminar at an elite university. It could be either in the natural sciences or in the humanities. Or perhaps business students analyzing a case study or mathematicians attacking a problem cracked centuries ago.
Maybe they’re students of theology or history studying the political ramifications of Martin Luther and the 97 theses he nailed to the door of the church in Witterberg in 1517. Perhaps they’re psychology students working on a particularly complex patient to be handled a day later.
The scenario is unimportant, the approach taken by the Germans is always the same. First they get (common) clarity on the case study I have given to them. Then they define the key terms. The scope is then discussed. After that they address approach and method. Then they finally get to the substance.
Isn’t that the case in so many situations in Germany? Analyze the topic from the so-called thirty thousand foot perspective. Identify the key factors in play. Pay attention especially to the interdependencies, the mutual influences. Then slowly but surely, carefully and focused, address the substance.
Like in early versions of Google Earth after one has typed in the address. You start out way up in space. See the Earth as a planet, then the continents. The globe rotates a bit. You recognize immediately if you are zooming down in the right direction. You go further down, stopping and starting as you wish, to get oriented. It’s just a matter of clicks, moving in and directly, north south east or west. Constantly seeing things from different perspectives.
Not without problems, not without mistakes
I imagine, as a metaphor, how much Germans would like to alter the code within Google in order to determine how quickly it zooms. They would slow it down, I suspect, whereas Americans, again metaphorically speaking, would not be interested in that in the least, instead switching to another website while Google completed the zoom-in.
I think of the English word circumspection, from Latin circum + specere via French into the English of the 15th Century: to look around, be cautious, to consider all circumstances and possible consequences, to be prudent. I see my German seminar participants in their work group with their handouts. They’re careful. Want to do things right, and not just avoid making mistakes.
Do things right, what is right, for themselves and their colleagues. Remember, we‘re talking about two of the most capable peoples on this planet, the German people and the American people. Both have demonstrated that their approaches to solving the fundamental challenges to any society work. Not without problems, not without mistakes, but they work, and work well.
Doing alters, a given situation
And some of their mistakes were serious, gravierend (grave). Mistakes made by both sides, not just by the one. Both peoples want to do things right, and to do the right thing. Verantwortungsvoll. Verantwortung – responsibility + voll, full. Which of the respective approaches is better, more appropriate, superior, is not our topic here. Such questions can only be based on very concrete and specific situations. Even in such, it is difficult to answer the question in a definitive way.
The Germans focus on the consequences of their decisions. They think several steps ahead. They try to anticipate if you wiggle in one area where it will waggle in another. They are well aware that decisions lead to action. Things are set in motion. Doing creates, or at least alters, a given situation (reality), and not always in a positive way.