Persuasive nonetheless

“How is it that certain Americans ﹣ although they do not understand the subject matter as well as their German counterparts, and have less experience ﹣ are still able to persuade me that their concept, product or service is better?”

Many times in my work I have heard Germans say: „Our proposals are better than those presented by our American colleagues. We have deeper expertise and more experience. But often senior-level management, German included, chooses what the Americans propose.“

Ok, let’s pull apart your question.

Fachlich nicht so gut verstehen, meaning less expertise. And weniger Erfahrung, meaning less experience. What could be more persuasive than those two attributes? „We know the material at a deep level. And we have worked with it over an extended period of time.“ That should be enough to convince anyone, Americans included.

I define authentic expertise as experience understood. Knowledge without experience is empty. It’s up in the clouds, not grounded, it’s theoretical. On the other hand, experience without understanding is not known. It is merely anecdotal, cannot be explained. It, too, is empty.

So how is it that those German colleagues, who have authentic expertise, can fail to persuade another German (same culture!), whereas an American with less authentic expertise can?

Perhaps those German colleagues are ﹣ or come across as ﹣ too theoretical, too academic. Perhaps they are overly problem-oriented, focusing too much on complexity and risk, and not enough on opportunity. Perhaps they are a bit arrogant, therefore not fully listening, a bit close-minded, inflexible.

Perhaps they are not suffienciently motivated. It is one thing to possess the knowledge and the experience to solve a problem, to overcome a significant challenge, to know exactly what needs to be done. It is a wholly different thing to be fired up, determined, utterly focused, totally dedicated to then doing it. Execution!

Maybe, and this is quite subjective, the Germans are less likeable than their American counterparts. Maybe the Americans communicate with you﹣deal with you in the sense of handle you﹣in such a way that you say to yourself: „Yeah, I like these people. They inspire me. There’s energy and excitement in them. They’re like me. I’m like them. I want these folks to succeed. I want to be a part of this!“

Here’s another possible explanation.

Maybe knowledge and experience are not everything. Maybe there are other skills which are just as, if not more, important than knowledge and experience. Such as: a clear vision, if not in detail, of what needs to be done; the ability to recruit and inspire those who will make those things happen; and the management skills to ensure that execution.

Knowledge and experience can be recruited, bought, or borrowed. Americans define leadership more in tems of the overall ability to bring experts together, form them as a team, and then lead them to success. Whereas Germans define leadership on technical expertise (Fachwissen) and experience.

You can see this within their companies. Look at what it takes to advance in German companies, especially technology-driven companies. Then contrast that with what it takes within American companies.

My final thought is that perhaps you have experience working with Americans, or at least observing them, and you see that they, too, are successful. It is not as if America has not produced people and companies who succeed.

So, maybe the rational side of you says: „These folks know how to solve problems. They may not always have the highest level of subject matter expertise nor the many years of experience. But they have many other skills critical to success. And they have the `fire in the belly´ to succeed!“

Two final comments: Your question, Christian, begins with “Wie schaffen es bestimmte Amerikaner, ….“: „How do certain Americans ….“ So we’re talking not about all Americans, but some of them.

Second, and perhaps more importantly: How can Germans, who have authentic expertise, and in most cases, therefore, are proposing what is best for the team and the company, ensure that their message comes across persuasively not only to their fellow Germans, but moreso to their American listeners?

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