Denk mit. Think with. From the German verb mitdenken. Germans expect this of team members. They expect it, also, of the products they develop.

A friend describes the technology built into his new high end German sedan. He was in a rush. Found a parking spot. Hopped out. Grabbed a few things out of the trunk. Walked a few steps and the trunk popped back open. He goes back and reshuts the trunk. A few more steps and it pops open again. Strange. He moves some things around in the trunk only to discover that he had left his car keys in the trunk the first time. Mitdenken. Nice.

Another friend flies over to Germany. A German colleague picks him up at Frankfurt Airport. They hop in a rental car. Another high end German sedan. A couple of turns and they’re on the autobahn. His colleague looks over at him with a grin on his face then presses the gas pedal to the floor. Soon they’re up to 180 km per hour, over 100 mph.

Mitdenken. About maintain control.

Traffic is only mildly heavy, but they’re quickly approaching a truck. In fact, they’re right in line to ram the truck from behind. The still-grinning German colleague keeps “the pedal to the metal.” My friend in the passenger seat – at this point pale in the face, sporting a few new gray hairs, and clutching tightly to his seat belt – mentions nervously, that the truck seems to be coming closer. Grin. The powerful German luxury sedan comes within a certain, safe distance of the truck, but no closer, even though the gas pedal remains all the way down. Mitdenken. A little scary.

Then there is the highly sophisticated German control system which makes manned monitoring of the most sensitive, and dangerous, parts of a complex manufacturing site no longer necessary. “The controls system will do the work better than people.” Although understood, trusted and implemented in Germany, the Americans feel wary of handing over final decisions and judgement to a machine. It reminded them of the computer-driven, automated trading systems once used on Wall Street which had led to some rather irrational market fluctuations. Mitdenken. More than a little scary.

Americans like intelligent products. Intelligent means keeping the user in control while making everything easier, faster, less expensive. Over-engineering is technology with questionable added value. It is technology which goes beyond the needs and desires of the customer. It is technology which is often not robust.