Marcel Reich-Ranicki

German literature, film and theater critics are particularly critical. They view everything with skepsis and are therefore considered by Germans – a skeptical people in general – to be more serious, more reliable. One German literature critic labeled a new novel the most impressive of the year, but still gave it four out of a possible five stars.

Marcel Reich-Ranicki was considered the most influential literature critic in today‘s Germany. He was known to tear apart the works of contemporary German writers both in his written critiques and on his television show. Active until 92 years of age Reich-Ranicki remained the most read critic in Germany precisely because of his very high standards of excellence.

Thirty minutes of Reich-Ranicki criticizing books.


Führen mit Auftrag

Führen mit Auftrag, a multifaceted leadership concept roughly translated as Leading by Mission, has been the foundational leadership principle in the German military over the last two hundred years. It has its roots in the famous Prussian Reforms of the early 19th Century when the Germans did a comprehensive root cause analysis of why they were so suddenly and thoroughly defeated by Napoleon‘s armies.

Führen mit Auftrag – leading by mission – is how Germans define Menschenführung or leadership of men. The officer issues to his troops a mission, a goal. It is generally formulated, includes a time component and an indication of forces required. It is then up to the next level to devise how they will complete the mission independent of their leadership.

Unique about Führen mit Auftrag is the degree of freedom on the tactical level given to those issued the mission. As long as they complete the overall mission, they decide independently which approach is best, including significant adjustments to possible changes in the situation. Required at the tactical level are flexibility, creativity and executing independent of next-level leadership.

Of critical importance to Führen mit Auftrag is that the tactical level understand clearly and thoroughly the strategic thinking of their commanding officer, and are trained to act independently of that commanding officer, yet in the spirit of his strategic intent.

Those on the tactical must also possess both good judgement and the will to make independent decisions. They must have a strong sense of responsibility and duty. The commanding officer, for his or her part, must make their strategic thinking clear, transparent and understandable for those on the tactical level.


Mediation Process

On the website of the German National Association of Mediation one reads:

“The mediator directs the mediation process in angemessener (appropriate, reasonable, adequate) way and considering the unique aspects of the case, including an imbalance of power between the conflict parties, the rule of law, as well as any particular needs and wishes of the two parties, including the need to resolve the conflict in a timely manner.”

The conflict parties may modify the mediation process in line with current rules or otherwise, in agreement with the moderator. The mediator may conduct separate hearings with the conflict parties if she or he deems this to be helpful.”


Schweigen ist Gold

“Speech is silver. Silence is gold.” German children are taught to only speak when they have something intelligent to say. Idle banter – to speak or act playfully or wittily – is viewed as superficial, a lack of education, poor upbringing. It is considered impolite.


„The best engineers come from Germany“

The BBC reported in September 2013: “I think the apprentices will be guaranteed a job when we go back, so I think we’ll be ok,” said Rhys from Bristol, UK. He is one of just 2,200 young workers chosen from some 45,000 applicants by the electronics and electrical engineering giant Siemens for its pan-European training scheme. 

Another apprentice, 21-year-old Gabriel from Northampton, says he came to Berlin to learn the German way. “They are much more precise, they go into detail a lot more. It helps you understand why all the best engineers and creatives come from here.”

“Everybody knows what the label ‘Made in Germany’ means,” says 22-year-old Vainius from Lithuania. “This is a perfect example of how they do it. It is an excellent chance for everyone here.“

Germany’s vocational system has been around for decades and is deeply embedded in society. Youngsters who are not qualified for or interested in going to university can join a program in which they work part of the week for a firm that pays them and teaches them relevant skills. The rest of the time they spend in the classroom.

Chambers of commerce and industry bodies are involved to ensure that the work and the teaching are matched. After their apprenticeships, the trainees often have jobs to walk into, in sectors including electrical engineering, sales and marketing, shipping and agriculture.

Roughly two out of three young Germans go through this system.


Markenprodukte

Markenprodukte. Brand name products: Products which are immediately recognized as excellent based on the name of its producer; often products which are of average quality but remain in the minds of consumers due to constant advertising.

German companies have been exporting high quality products consistently since the end of the Second World War. Their products have gained an international reputation for being very good, often better than their competitors. The Germans view reliability as one of the key characteristics of a well-known brand.

Qualität ist, wenn der Kunde wiederkommt, nicht das Produkt. Quality is when the customer returns, not the product. This well-known saying indicates the importance quality plays in the German product philosophy. A product which does not function perfectly and therefore needs to be returned is an embarrassment to the producer.


Continuous improvement

Manufacturing automobiles is based on complex production processes. Chassis are formed out of high tensile steel, which are then fitted and painted. Each and every step in the process is made up of smaller, more exact process steps.

All of this cannot work without those involved following processes. Operating on checklists will not lead to road-worthy automobiles.

German cars are known worldwide for their quality, possibly the best in the world. Could that technical quality be based on the quality of processes? Could the strict adherence to well-defined processes be a key to success?


Bike Helmet

End of a workday. 6:30 pm. Winter. Dark. Raining lightly. I hop on my bike and head home. Turning into my street I ride along the sidewalk on the left hand side of the road. Slowly. Don‘t want the bike to slide out from under me. I also want to be respectful of pedestrians.

I see a woman about twenty-five meters ahead of me. Just before I pass her she suddenly sticks out her left arm like a pole to block me. It works. I brake suddenly, jump off and confront her. “Are you crazy? I could have fallen from my bike and injured myself.”

She stands her ground, looks me in the eye and says very calmly: Sie fahren auf dem Bürgersteig, auf der linken Seite der Strasse und ohne Licht. I was riding on the sidewalk as an adult, on the left hand side of the street and without a bicycle light on.

In Germany, all against the law. I was flabbergasted, not so much at the laws, which make perfect sense, but at the audacity of this woman to play enforcer of the law. I could hardly contain myself. Upon arriving at home I described the scene to my German wife. Her response? Sie hat recht. The woman was right. The marriage didn’t last.


Yes Signals

Germans focus on so-called Knackpunkte – literally snap or break points – those areas, which if they fail, all fails. The German yes is often given conditionally or with a warning: “We can do that, assuming that ….”, or “That would be possible, but only if ….”, or “At the moment we cannot give you a 100% guarantee, because ….”. By stating there is inherent risk involved, Germans are sharing the risk with the other party to the agreement.


Pride comes before the fall

Deutsche Telekom – German Telecom – has had several stock offerings. Its first in 1996 was accompanied by a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign which was a huge success.

People who had never owned stocks flocked to the T-Aktie, to T-Shares. The Aktieneuphorie – stock market euphoria – in Germany lasted for several years.

The share price at the first offering was 28.50 DM (14.57 Euros), at the second 39.50 Euros, then 66.50 Euros. On March 6, 2000 the T-Aktie hit its highpoint of 103.50 Euros. 

From there it was all downhill. On September 30, 2002 it was at 8.42 Euros. At the beginning of 2015 it just about at 16 Euros.

Shareholders sued Deutsche Telekom in 2008 in Frankfurt. Their claim was that Deutsche Telekom misinformed them about the true value of the company’s real estate holdings, as well as other incorrect statements in their financial statements.

Over 17,000 shareholders demanded roughly 80 million Euros in damages. The court case focused on whether the shareholders were sufficiently informed about the level of risk.

The marketing hype of the T-Aktie was criticized by the shareholders after the fact. “Such marketing campaigns are not appropriate for selling stocks. This isn’t laundry detergent, not toothpaste,” said Jürgen Kurz, head of the German Society for the Protection of Securities Holders. “People should buy stocks in companies, but they should be informed about the risk they are taking.”

The Süddeutsche Zeitung – one of Germany’s leading newspapers located in Munich – wrote at the end of 2014: “The T-Aktie is not just any old stock. It’s a symbol. It made Germans hungry to invest in stocks, and then killed that appetite for years to come. The investors felt cheated, tricked. Unrequited love. Today only half as many Germans hold stocks as in 2000.”