How I think


Seven clips. Five min.

Many words for culture

I am not a fan of the term culture. I prefer the term national culture.

But there are many words we can use: logic, tradition, hard-wiring, dna, method, process, approach, self-understanding, beliefs or belief system, mentality, character, character traits, national character.

These are all synonyms different words with the same meaning. National culture is how we think, how we act.

People in boxes

It is often said that you cannot put people in boxes. In other words, that people are individuals that you cannot generalize.

But, this is wrong. We can put people in boxes. We can generalize.

A sophisticated society – like the United States, like Germany, and like many others – could not function, if their people did not have a shared understanding in those areas which are essential to stability, to functioning, to being sophisticated.

Shared understanding means common belief, not a least-common denominator, not a watered-down, but a shared, at the deepest level rooted. Not in all of the details, but in the main points.

These are the understandings or beliefs which define a culture, which forms a culture, which enables a culture to further develop.

We can put people in boxes. The boxes we call cultures.

About them. About us.

Whenever one people seeks to understand another people, it is seeking to better understand itself. There can be no conversation about another culture, without that conversation being about one’s own culture.

Every person is from a national culture. “from” meaning at home in, embedded in. In other words, all of us see another culture with the eyes of our own culture.

Americans cannot understand Germans without understanding themselves. Nor can Germans understand Americans without understanding Germans.

To understand the other, means to understand ourself. They go hand-in-hand. They complement each other. Are dependent on each other. Cannot work without each other.

Bell curves

Yes there are differences not just between but also within national cultures. Americans are diverse. Germans are diverse. Humankind is diverse.

East Coast. West Coast. Northern Germany. Southern Germany. Christians. Jews. Muslims. Non-believers. In both countries. Female. Male. Young. Old. Extrovert. Introvert. From a big family. From a small family. Grew up in the city. Grew up in the country.

Trained in the natural sciences, engineering, medicine, law, business, economics, humanities. Working in marketing, manufacturing, supply chain, sales, human resources, service, general management.

Diverse.

However, capable Americans, capable Germans can switch to another company in their national culture, in their national business culture at any time.

How is this possible?

As Americans, as Germans within their respective cultures, separate from each other, they have a common understanding, have common beliefs. Beliefs which are critical to the stability of their societies, to the stability of the companies rooted in their societies.

But, when Germans and Americans collaborate, two sets of understanding, two sets of beliefs come together.

This means, that we are interested not so much in the diversity within the United States and within Germany, not so much in the distribution along the respective bell curves, not so much in East Coast, West Coast, Northern Germany, Southern Germany.

We are interested in the gaps between the two bell curves in and of themselves.

North. South. East. West.

North. South. East. West. These are the most basic coordinates of a compass. A compass provides orientation. We begin with: North. South. East. West. Then we become more accurate, more precise. North by northwest. South by southeast.

Another image: first we see a field, and a stream, a bit further we see a wooded area. We enter into the wooded area and see different kinds of trees.

Field. Stream. Wooded area. Trees.

When we discuss differences between Americans and Germans in how they think, in how they act, we begin with the general then, over time, in conversation with each other, we become familiar with the specifics. We become more accurate, more precise.

We get to know each other, to understand each other, in order to work together.

Capable. Proud. Strong-willed.

Germany. The United States. Germans. Americans. Two successful societies. Two successful national economies. Nation. Economy.

Companies with successful approaches.

Both peoples are capable, proud, and strong-willed. Both peoples are determined to have the say, to “run the show”, to “be in the driver’s seat.”

Whenever we discuss the German or the American approach, we’re talking about approaches which are proven, which work. Whenever we discuss how we do things, we’re talking about what leads to success.

Both approaches lead to success.

Differences. Not commonalities.

We are interested in differences, and not in commonalities. Why?

Commonality means that the two cultures are in agreement. They share a belief, an approach, a logic. That shared logic is working for them. Commonalities need not be discussed.

Differences are far more important and far more valuable. For two reasons.

Differences can lead to problems. Misunderstanding. Irritation. Friction. People working against, instead of with and for each other. Problems can become costly: over schedule, over budget, poor work results.

The differences need to be understood in order to anticipate and to prevent the problems. Differences, however, also mean potential.

Imagine what could be accomplished if Americans and Germans were to understand, then combine the inherent strengths of their approaches, of their methods, logics, beliefs?