Fehlerkultur – literally failure-culture – is defined by sociologists as the way in which societies react to failure (mistakes) and to those who commit them. A German psychologist took a closer look at Fehlerkultur within German companies.

In the past, innovation in Germany, he wrote, was the product of a long collective decision making process. The great inventions of the Industrial Revolution in Germany were very seldom the result of an individual genius, but instead the achievement of groups of men and women.

Problems (mistakes, errors, failures) were identified, analyzed and solved collectively, as a group. The final product was ausgereift – technically mature, well-engineered, sophisticated. American-styled “trial and error” does not exist in German thinking, which is why there is no accurate German translation for it.

The negative side of this German national-cultural strength is that a systematic, perfection-oriented group approach to solving problems (to innovation) requires patience and time. And time is not always offorded by today’s rapid market developments.

It is in such circumstances, according to the study, that the Germans inclination to blame those who take risks and inevitably make mistakes comes stronger into play.

Mistakes are deemed almost as a personal and professional transgression which demand being exposed, and the perpetrator punished. This heightens even more the innate German fear of commiting errors, which in turn stymies creative thinking.