Germans get broad. Americans go narrow.

Nature of the Decision

From the German point of view it is not enough to be capable of making decisions, to answer complex questions intelligently, if you haven’t first defined accurately the decision to be made, the question to be answered.

Germans engage in a discussion upfront about: What is the nature of the decision we are about to make? What are its implications for other areas of our work? Are we addressing the right question? Are we in agreement about what decision we are making and why?

Schmal (narrow): Old High German smal: small, narrow; narrow in width, as seen in profile; little, few, not enough, bare, barren.

Breit (wide): Of greater length in profile; as in size(s), measurements, a certain width; large, stretched; in large measure.

The German word schmal is often used to describe poor performance, low quality, something deficient. An engineer who delivers poor results is referred to as a Schmalspuringenieur, literally a narrow lane engineer. A Schmalspurforscher is a scientist who has achieved little professionally. Schmalbrüstig – literally small or narrow in the chest – is someone who is unathletic.

Grundsätzlich: Relating to what is foundational; in accordance with a principle, in principle; actual, fundamentally; in general, as a rule.

The German people are serious. They value principles, deep-felt beliefs. Er hat keine Prinzipien. He has no principles, is a very serious criticism in the German context. To have no principles, to have no values, which guide one in their behavior, is considered to be a sign of weak character. Germans tend to have discussions about bottom-line thinking, beliefs, and principles.

The German political parties have their Grundsatzprogramm, their foundational political principles, which are formulated for the long term. The Grundsatzprogramm encompasses their foundational political beliefs, upon which the specifics of their political platform are formulated.

Their election campaigns are closely aligned with these ideas. The Grundsatzprogramm is seldom modified. To go against it, to follow a political course which strays from it, invites internal rebuke and sanction.

Avoid philosophical discussion

Americans do not engage in a discussion about the essence of a decision to be made. If a discussion does takes place about the decision in and of itself, however, it is strictly for the purpose of defining who and/or what is to be served by making a good decision.

Americans invest less time on identifying how a particular decision fits into the broader picture. Their approach to all decisions is primarily motived by pragmatism. Decisions lead to actions, which in turn lead to further decisions to be made. Americans avoid getting weighted down in what they view as over-analysis. Forward movement is of priority.


philosophical: of, relating to, or based on philosophy; having a calm attitude toward a difficult or unpleasant situation; characterized by the attitude of a philosopher; calm or unflinching in the face of trouble, defeat, or loss.

„They got into a philosophical debate about what it means for something to be natural.“ And „He’s trying to be philosophical about their decision since he knows he can’t change it.“ First known use 14th century.

Synonyms: abstract, logical, metaphysical, profound, rational, thoughtful. Also: calm, composed, deep, learned, resigned, stoic, serene, temperate. (MerriamWebster)

Being philosophical in the American context if often considered to be detached, abstract, impractical, unpragmatic, even arrogant.

Regarding the scope of decisions, the Germans go broad and systematic, Americans get narrow and particular.

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