So I’ve just visited Germany for the first time. It was truly a flying visit – two full days of travel to and from Doha and just one full day in Kiel, on the Baltic Sea – but I saw enough to be hugely impressed by the country and the attitude of its people.
A lot of my opinion was formed on a five-hour train journey from Frankfurt Airport to Kiel.
Take such a journey in other parts of the world, and you’ll suffer from people chatting incessantly on their mobile phones, listening to loud music which they think you can’t hear, or spending time on Facebook.
Not on this train, though. Maybe I was just lucky, but all around me was quiet. Perhaps this was a sign of why Germany has survived this euro crisis better than other countries.
My fellow travelers were all busy. The teenager opposite spent four hours working through his biology textbook. Next to him, a young university student was getting on with her latest assignment.
Young children were reading books. (Yes, books! Not playing video games!) The one person I did see glued to a smartphone was catching up on the news for hours rather than updating his Facebook status.
People were using their time studiously. It could be construed as a bit boring or intense, but as I sat back and watched the Muppet movie on my iPad, I could only be impressed.
Here was a country at work.
Something else I learned about was the German concept of mittelstand. It’s basically the small- and medium-sized companies that form the backbone of the country, and it’s another big reason why things are stronger there.
These businesses are, like the trains and the people on them, efficient. They’ve kept a lot of manufacturing and production at home, and are marked by strong apprenticeship and succession plans.
That’s the key, I think. Other countries focus on education – which is important, of course – but Germany looks to arm its people with skills and talent that can be used in real jobs.
A university degree is great, but in these times in which jobs are so thin they don’t necessarily carry the weight they should.
The actual reason for my trip was a visit to Kieler Woche, the biggest sailing regatta in the world. My host was SAP, the German software company – in fact, the biggest business software company in the world.
SAP, along with the automaker Audi, has gotten itself involved in sailing in Germany in a big way.
Aside from sponsoring Sailing Team Germany, the companies are creating usable technology to assist the sailors, particularly ahead of the London Olympics.
Now, instead of a sailor coming in after a day of racing for a simple debriefing with their coach, they’re met with data and information about their performance. For example, how the wind and current behaved, and how they can improve for next time.
The sailors love it because it provides them something they can’t get on the race course. Nothing will replace ability and instinct out on the water, but technology like this will always assist.
You can see more about all this, plus a feature interview with Jim Snabe – the co-CEO of SAP – on Counting the Cost this week.