Different national cultures have different motivational systems, different relationship to authority and to capitalism.
Germany, for example, has tight interlocking institutions like work councils. It also has labor markets that make it hard to hire and fire people. These arrangements mean that Germany excels at incremental innovation — the sort of steady improvements that are common in metallurgy and manufacturing.
The US, on the other hand, has looser economics networks. It is relatively easy to hire and fire and start new businesses. The US thus excels at radical innovation, at the sort of rapid paradigm shifts prevalent in software industry.
Different countries excelled at different things because of different government regulations. Change the regulations and you change the cultures. Regulation emerges from cultures, which are deeper and longer lasting.
The Social Animal, David Brook, Chapter 10 about Intelligence