Checklists. To-do lists. Cookbook-like recipes. “Americans don’t really understand what they are doing and why. They are not trained, nor are they allowed, to think independently. There is no real mitdenken, thinking with.”

Not uncommon sentiments among Germans who interact with Americans. A misperception. Partly. Partly not.

Checklists are practical, pragmatic. They free up the mind to concentrate on more important things. They allow for self-supervision, for checking, if necessary for double-checking. They minimize unforced errors. They structure work.

For folks who do the same thing, the same way, time and again, for years, with the same colleagues, checklists surely are unnecessary. These folks can think for themselves, independently. People same. Think same. Do same.

But what about those who do different things, at different times, in different ways and with different people? Checklists become both tool and metaphor for how to manage the differences, the change, the flux.

America is constantly challenged by flux. An immigrant nation. Influx of peoples from different backgrounds, with different skill sets, levels of education. Some craftsmen. Others semi-literate. Some rooted to the land and permanent. Others who move every couple of years.

Add to this the American belief in learning by doing, and checklists – in the sense of detailed descriptions of how to do the work – become a necessity, a helpful tool, management’s assistant.

Germans learn the checklists in their extensive theoretical training. Duales Ausbildungsystem. Dual training. Over many years. Only then are they permitted to do the work. Americans learn just enough to be permitted to learn by doing. Same goal. Two approaches. Timing about the same.

Oh, and let’s not forget. Sometimes government bodies simply impose checklists.