Mitdenken – literally mit with + denken thinking. With-thinking or thinking with. A very German word. There is hardly a German who has not heard this word repeatedly, from their parents, in school, from their driving instructor, or their boss. They all stress, expect, demand Mitdenken. But what does Mitdenken mean?
Duden, one of Germany’s most prestigious dictionaries, offers a brief but complex definition: etwas denkend bei einer Tätigkeit nachvollziehen. Literally: “something thinking during a task comprehending.”
Grammatically this formulation does not work in English. Its meaning, however, is: while you are performing a task, a job, an activity, be aware of how and why you are doing it, in the sense that you are recapitulating or reproducing in your mind how and why the task should be done in a certain way.
Duden also states: nicht gedankenlos, sondern mit Überlegung vorgehen. This is easier to understand. Literally: “not thoughtless, but with Überlegung (consideration, reflection, thought, observation, deliberation) proceed.” In other words, think through carefully what you do while you are doing it.
A German online dictionary states: “think clearly about what is to be done; for this work we need someone, who can think-with; students should learn to think-with; we need young people who can think-with.”
Mitdenken is also defined as etwas mit anderen Gedanken zusammen denken – literally: “something with other thoughts combined think.” Meaning: to think about something while combining other thoughts with it.