By John Magee
Fortschrittsglauben. Fortschritt, progress. Glauben, belief. Literally the belief in progress, or more in the sense of placing faith in progress, technical mechanical scientific.
The Germans are skeptical of Fortschrittsglauben. They almost instinctively question, challenge whatever is new – especially if it is in a fundamental area. It‘s not that they block, are against, „reject out of hand“ what is new. No, they want to take a closer look, do not want to accept it in a „blue-eyed“ (blauäugig, meaning naive) way.
It seems paradoxical, because Germans are so exceptional in the natural sciences, in engineering, in developing and making things. New, better, often breakthrough things. Germans are open to the idea – actually it is often their starting point – that new technologies, new ways of doing things are not always good, can actually be harmful, negative, even bad. „Just because it can be done, doesn‘t mean that it is good or that it helps us“, is a statement one hears time and again in Germany.
Reticence instinctive and immediate
It is in this point that they differ from Americans, who for the most part are more willing to try out what is new. And it is true that Americans – from the German perspective – are too fortschrittsgläubig (in progress believing, uncritically so).
Americans have difficulty understanding this particular German point of view. Not as if the Americans truly are naive, but because the reticence (Zurückhaltung) from the Germans comes so fast, is often the initial, instinctive and immediate reaction. It can come across as fearful, self-protective, „stuck in the past“, even backwards.
This perception is, of course, not accurate. It is too simple. For German society is highly sophisticated, technically, scientifically. And much of the modern world‘s progress has been German-driven or at least the Germans have contributed to it.
This subtle – often not so subtle – difference in the two views of Fortschritt (progress) leads to misunderstanding, to disconnects, in their collaboration. Especially when jointly imagining, envisioning, developing, testing and marketing products and services.