“But Americans are so superficial!” People say this every time I travel from Los Angeles back to Germany. Is this actually true?

Sure, the Americans smile at you whenever they see you. If you sit next to someone in a restaurant, he or she will laugh and ask you how you are doing. If time permits, he or she will also start a little small talk. That happens. That is true. But, to be honest, I like that.

When meeting someone casually, I absolutely do not expect to have any deep-felt conversations or receive intimate friendship declarations. But how is this in Germany? If I am in a restaurant in Germany, the atmosphere is different. Smiling faces? Small talk? Talking to strangers? No such luck. I do not experience this behavior only in restaurants but also when hiking, meeting people on the street or in shops: Americans smile and talk, Germans ponder problems and say nothing. Of course, I am exaggerating and deliberately painting a black and white picture, equally black and white as the statement: “Americans are superficial!” But looking at this black and white image, I prefer a superficial American smiling and forgetting about me straight after compared to a profound gloomy looking German who looks away because he does not know me.

And how is this in the business world?

Let’s take a quick excursion into the business world. What kind of welcome do you get when you enter a shop in Germany? Are you the same as me and often feel like an intruder, disturbing someone? Does anyone actually take notice of you or let alone welcomes you? Have you experienced “Hello! Can I help you?” as an empty phrase that greets and dismisses you at the same time? If so, how up-to-date and suitable is that? How can we behave like this if everyone is talking about industry 4.0 and we already live in this future 4.0?
Every second job is at risk to disappear and/or to change. Porsche, Lufthansa, Nestlé… Every day we read in the news that companies are restructuring, dismissing, re-hiring, and so on. And what do we do? We try to keep up and save our jobs with “Hello, can I help you?”. Let’s be honest: Even the sweet little robot “Pepper” can carry this off and if we are unfortunate probably in a more cordial manner than us.

But there is another way

Let’s take a little detour back to the US. Last year we celebrated New Year’s Eve in a hip rooftop bar in Los Angeles and this summer we went there again. Shortly after we had arrived, the restaurant manager approached and greeted us with: “Welcome back. Nice to see you again.” Kaboom! We were totally gobsmacked. And before you ask, no, we did not misbehave at New Year’s Eve, neither had we been the only guests. The next day, we strolled down Melrose Avenue and, as we often do go to Vivienne Westwood into the clothing store. Guess how the shop assistant welcomed us? “Hello, welcome back. Aren’t you the two from Germany?” This dumbfounded us the second time. The third time happened two days later. I was training in a fitness studio taking part in a power-plate-course, twisted my ankle, and strained my foot. Back at home an email from the studio popped up on my screen asking if I was alright and to please take care of my foot.

It’s the UPP, that counts in the future

Let’s take a look at the restaurant manager, the shop assistant, and the fitness studio and see if their behavior was really shallow. Quite the contrary, to achieve what they did, you need to be anything but superficial. In fact, you need to be personal. Also, you cannot do your job according to the book but must act individually. Companies can no longer rely on their products to inspire their customers. These times are over. The classic USP is dead. What counts, is the UPP, the Unique Personal Proposition. It is our personality that matters. And I felt exactly this personality in the US. I did not feel like a sales transaction number but sensed I was recognized as a human being. Even today, I can still recall the face of the restaurant manager and the shop assistant, and they did the same and remembered me. How many shop assistants do you remember, whom you have met only once or twice and did not buy anything from? However, precisely this we must achieve in the 4.0 future. We must succeed in creating sustainable personal relationships. And we will only achieve this by throwing ourselves into the ring with our personalities – and not with any empty phrases, professional masks, and standard processes. I am steadfast convinced; people and their personalities will gain in importance the more technically and mechanically sophisticated our world becomes. And people will not act as an interface for information, but for emotions instead.

Simply let go….

We certainly have many “typically German” virtues that set us apart, but do creativity, flexibility, and relationship tuning really belong to it? Today we live in a globalized, networked, and digitized world which is changing faster and faster. If we want to stay in the game, we must adapt and play by the new rules. We still have a backlog demand in this precise area and must improve our ability to change quickly, to let go of the old, and to dare totally new ventures. But it’s never too late to start.