Much unease

Americans become very uneasy whenever they see their German colleagues address processes with their characteristic intensity. German process discipline is almost synonymous with rigidity.

Another, more careful, look reveals, however, a contradiction. On the one side, German processes are generic, theoretical, complex and seemingly not fully focused on the goal. On the other, Americans have the sense that Germans expect processes to be followed by the letter. They ask themselves how they are supposed to follow a process which is hardly described?

German procedures are also generic and not spelled out. The Germans take this as a signal to decide independently, to make their own judgement, in a given situation. Instead of requesting input or permission from their manager, they either decide themselves or discuss with an experienced colleague how to handle a given procedure within the context of its process.

To the Americans this represents a severe breakdown in process discipline. They have little understanding, thus tolerance, for processes or procedures which allow for so much independent action when that action can lead to mistakes, errors, problems, to an domino effect.

Don‘t write it down

In Germany the written word has a higher level of binding character (commitment) than the spoken. Once a process – how the work is done – has been documented, and if done so in a detailed way, Germans feel obligated to work along that process in a strict way.

This reduces their freedom to deviate from the process, to improvize, based on the specifics of a given situation. For this reason, and a few other, Germans do their best to avoid documenting how they work.

The German self-understanding also comes into play. They often feel that it is simply not necessary to write down how they work. Germans are well-trained, tend to work in the same area for many years, are very familiar with formal and informal processes, can rely on the advice of their colleagues and management, and want always the freedom to work independently.

And German departments have a high level of institutional knowledge, which is passed on to younger colleagues. It is seldom necessary for colleagues sit down and document all of the things they do in order to produce good work results.

Inductive reasoning

Jennifer leaves for school at 7:00 a.m. Jennifer is always on time. Jennifer assumes, then, that she will always be on time if she leaves at 7:00 a.m.

Every windstorm in this area comes from the north. I can see a big cloud of dust caused by a windstorm in the distance; so, a new windstorm is coming from the north.

Bob is showing a big diamond ring to his friend Larry. Bob has told Larry that he is going to marry Joan. Bob has bought the diamond ring to give to Joan.

The chair in the living room is red. The chair in the dining room is red. The chair in the bedroom is red. All chairs in the house are red.

Deductive reasoning

In mathematics, if A = B and B = C, then A = C. Since all humans are mortal, and I am a human, then I am mortal. All dolphins are mammals, all mammals have kidneys, therefore all dolphins have kidneys. 

Since all squares are rectangles, and all rectangles have four sides, so all squares have four sides. If Dennis misses work and at work there is a party, then Dennis will miss the party.


Inductive: Latin inducere, from in + ducere to lead. To induce means to: move by persuasion or influence; call forth, effect; cause the formation of. Inductive reasoning begins with observing particulars.

Should the particulars indicate a pattern, a conclusion might be drawn or inferred. The particular is the starting point. To infer means: to derive as a conclusion from facts or premise; guess, surmise; involve as a normal outcome of thought; point out, indicate, suggest, hint.

Deductive: Latin deducere, to lead away, from de- + ducere to lead. To deduce means to: infer from a general principle; trace the course of. Deductive reasoning draws a conclusion about particulars based on general or universal premises. The general is the starting point. A premise is something assumed or taken for granted, presupposed, believed.

Empirical: Originating in or based on observation or experience; relying on experience or observation alone often without due regard for system and theory; capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment. Latin empiricus, from Greek empeirikos, doctor relying on experience alone, from empeiria experience.

Popper’s Principle of Falsification

Deductive thinking is to make conclusions based on a law and a condition. Students in the social sciences at German universities learn deductive thinking early on.

Applying deductive thinking in the social sciences is not that simple, however. Statements (laws) can never be proven conclusively, because it is not possible to test every possible case. 

The Germans in the social sciences, therefore, rely on the Falsifikationsprinzip or principle of falsification: to seek out cases which contradict the hypothesis, in order to refine that hypothesis. 

The Falsifikationsprinzip was developed by the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, and is foundational to social science thinking in Germany.

It is one of the key reasons why Germans are inclined to reject inductive thinking, which suggests the general based on the specific. German social scientists (and academics in general) believe that inductive thinking is fine for everyday life, but has no place in the sciences.

A subtle difference

Normierung – norm-ing – is defining a unified measurement (dimensions, proportions) for products and processes. Norms are not only practical, they save money. Up to 17 billion Euros per year, according to the German Institut of Norms (DIN).

DIN is well known to all Germans, even if they don’t think about it. DIN-norms were introduced to them as early as grammar school when they began to work with stardardized pape sizes such as the A4. 

But what exactly is a norm?

The German Chamber of Commerce writes (loosely translated): “A norm is a rule (regulation, code of practice). It is legally accepted. It was established via a standarized process. It solves a problem, addresses a situation, addresses factual circumstances.”

Manufacturers can invoke or refer to a norm in order to save time and money. However, noone is obligated to follow a norm. They are often, nonetheless, written into production contracts, thus defining measurements and processes.

In that sense production proceeds deductively, base on theory or the norm. Industry norms are more firm, more binding, than industry standards, which are not generally accepted, which can be defined by manufacturer to manufacturer.

Interestingly, the English language does not distinguish between a norm and a standard. Perhaps this gives us deeper insight into German thinking.

Efficient and inefficient

Many of the most popular brands of children’s toys in the U.S. are wooden toys manufactured by fairly small companies. Compared to mass-produced plastic toys from China, they are inefficient to produce and more expensive to ship. Quality and design is the focus, not speed or quantity.

American-made tools: The websites of popular American toolmakers such as Snap On and Craftsman include many statements about non-negotiable product quality and safety but make no mention of efficiency. Production of American products often maximizes quality and safety while giving much less attention to efficiency of production.

U.S. health care: The delivery of health care in the United States is perhaps the best example of disregard for efficiency in exchange for safe, high-quality output. According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, „about 30 percent of health spending in 2009 – roughly $750 billion – was wasted on unnecessary services, excessive administrative costs, fraud, and other problems.“

The reasons for this waste are complex, but the underlying logic is that in the health care sector (and in most other industries), Americans view a safe, comfortable, and positive output as the primary goal of their activities; therefore, efficiency is often ignored.

U.S. military: The U.S. military spends vast sums of money to achieve the strategic goals of the nation. For example, it costs the U.S. an estimated $1 million dollars to outfit a single soldier in Afghanistan for a year. The U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion dollars fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. The key focus of military operation is achieving the strategic objective (or output); efficiency and costs are rarely discussed. If they are discussed, they are always secondary to achieving the mission.

Federal hiring process: President Obama signed a memorandum in February 2010 ordering the Office of Personnel Management to streamline the federal hiring process. Although implementing this order will vary across different agencies, the act symbolizes a concerted effort to add efficiency to what was previously an incredibly slow and ineffective process.

Hotel chains: Many companies cannot focus exclusively on output while neglecting efficiency. Hotel chains have started to encourage customers to conserve water (thereby increasing efficiency) by re-using towels and not changing linens every day. These campaigns are often marketed as „eco-friendly.“  They are aimed at lowering costs and increasing the company’s efficiency. The output must be of good and uniform quality, but if the company does not operate efficiently, then it will not be profitable.

Assembly line: With the assembly line Henry Ford revolutioned the automotive industry and the way products are produced in almost every industry. This new manufacturing process made building cars more efficient. Because of the increase in efficiency, the cost to produce a car went down and when production costs were lowered, so was the retail price of the cars. Today, almost all products – from faucets to airplanes – are produced in some form of assembly line.

Houses people love to hate

According to the U.S. Census Bureau „The average new American home last year was 2,480 square feet, an increase of 88 square feet from 2010.“ These excessively large single-family homes are often referred to as „McMansions“ due to their relatively low cost and massive size.

By comparison, this is more than double the average home size in France and Denmark. The average size of a house in the United Kingdom was 818 square feet in 2009. Large homes consume large amounts of electricity, water, and other resources.

Americans tend to fill these large homes with numerous large things such as high capacity washing machines, clothes dryers, and kitchen appliances. Americans tend to keep the temperature of their home around 70 degrees Fahrenheit regardless of the temperature outside or amount of energy required to do so. Although some utility companies are encouraging Americans to use more efficient lighting, inefficient lighting and appliances remain the norm in most of the country.

American homes tend to be found on large plots of land, especially in affluent suburban areas. These lots are usually landscaped and planted with decorative plants and grasses that must be mowed, watered, and maintained. Mowing large lawns requires large tractors that, in turn, consume large amounts of gasoline. Watering lawns is a very inefficient process during hot summer months when much of the water evaporates before it has a chance to absorb into the soil.

Increasing home efficiency: In November 2010 the Obama Administration announced a program that provides funds to help Americans make their homes more energy efficient. The funds are used, for example, to insulate attics or put double panes on windows to trap heat in the winter and cold air in the summer months.”

Many local utility companies now send “efficiency packs” to new customers that include water-saving nozzles for faucets, energy efficient light bulbs, and suggestions on how to save energy during the warmest and coolest months.

The U.S. government also provides rebates for new commercial and residential wind and solar power projects. These initiatives have a dual function. They are aimed at bolstering the U.S. economy by creating jobs in the renewable energy sector. And they are also aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by increasing energy efficiency. America is striving to be more “green.”

Food and obesity

Despite the fact that over 30% of Americans are considered obese, they continue to expect and consume very large portions of food. This is part of a culture that glorifies and celebrates things that are large. Large homes, large cars, and large food portions are made possible by America’s abundant wealth and natural resources and celebrated as a key aspect of American culture. Bigger is better.

McDonald’s revolutionized the restaurant sector by applying an assembly line model to their hamburger restaurant. This process produces food of predictable quality in an efficient manner. In order to be profitable, non-fast food chains like the Cheesecake Factory must quickly produce food products of predictable quality without wasting ingredients or resources such as water and electricity. These restaurants have set up processes that rely upon training low-skilled workers how to create high-quality products by following strict processes.

„Bigger is better“: Many travelers have noted that American food portion sizes are much larger than portions in other countries in Europe and Asia. A medium sized drink or meal in America is the equivalent of a large in many Asian or European countries. Mainstream America tends to value size and price over the quality of a food product. Most fast food chains give customers the option of super-sizing a meal for a small fee ($0.50 – $1.00). Super-sizing increases the apparent value of the meal because it increases the size (and calorie count) for a small sum of money.

Some corners of American society have begun to strive for healthier, more sustainable portion sizes. One notable example is the controversial decision by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to limit soft drink sizes. The law bans the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces and is aimed at curbing obesity and unhealthy habits that ultimately increase medical costs and decrease worker productivity.

Another initiative aimed at encouraging Americans to make better eating choices is the federal law that forces food chains with more than a certain number of store locations to post calorie information on the menu. This law was part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as „Obamacare.“