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Sunday, November 8. 2009
Every once in a while a book comes along that reveals a startling gap in our understanding of the world, our passions and desires, and ourselves. Start-Up Nation: The Story of
The 236-page (plus copious footnotes) book is written in layman’s ease while delving in Harvard case-study depth, based on over 100 interviews of those who made it happen, into the question of how a tiny, imperiled nation with a relatively miniscule population came to be a leader in international hi-tech and a leading prosperous economy.
As I literally devoured the book, heavily highlighting its insights, I kept wondering why I, a student of
How Israel, itself a start-up nation, accomplished this fifty-fold economic growth in 60-years, these major contributions to the world, belying the pessimism or fears or hatreds of others, is carefully laid out in this book. The authors go well beyond the clichés about Jewish brains or survival imperative or such and go into the details.
The world is aware of the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) prowess at armed defense. It is the IDF’s intense culling of students to join its elite technology and combat units that develops the scientific and leadership skills that are carried into the economy. It is the IDF’s creation of life-long bonds and relationships among Israelis, almost all of whom must serve for many years, that is carried over into trusted networks to rely upon and come together to make breakthroughs. It is IDF experience, along with its reliance upon lower-level and individual initiative for adaptivity in battle, and the emphasis upon informality and results instead of rank, that is prized by private employers and by citizens choosing government leaders.
It is the chutzpah, sometimes defined as brazen nerve, of Israelis that is wedded to respect for trying-and-failing that propels Israelis to attempt what others see as too daunting or embarrassing. Israeli companies are structured in an “experimental model”, where everything is evaluated and debated in a culture of skepticism and proof, compared to more common US or Western or South Korean or Japanese or Chinese companies that are structured more on a “standardized model” governed by routines and systems and imitation.
It is the experience of assimilating refugees and immigrants from seventy different nationalities, many with little prior education but well-served by educational opportunities in
It is the removal of earlier socialist-statist restrictions upon finance, spurred by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his earlier positions as Prime Minister and Finance Minister, that unleashed internal resources and attracted foreign investments to fund start-ups. There are over 45 Israeli venture capital funds now, and billions of dollars have flowed in from abroad.
It is the cross-training and fertilization of talents, made necessary by a smaller population, compared to narrow specializations in the
All this adds up to a “cluster,” the concept of development drawn from Harvard Business School's Michael Porter. “Clusters produce exponential growth for their communities because people living and working within the cluster are in some way connected to each other.” There are other examples that work, such as in the
Reflections on the
The value of this book doesn’t just stop there, however, although the authors do not go astray in their focus. As NBC’s Tom Brokaw comments: "There is a great deal for
By pondering the book’s explanations of
Threats to the Economic Miracle
Israel has already shown that it can survive and prosper even under its heavy economic burdens of defense and integrating millions of refugees, despite repeated wars and ongoing terrorism. During the current worldwide financial meltdown,
The authors raise what they see as the most serious challenge to Israel’s continued economic success, the disproportionate percentage of its population – the Orthodox Haredim and the Israeli Arabs -- who set themselves or are set outside the institutions, experiences and relationships that lay at the core of Israel’s financial and security strengths. In the
The Haredim self isolate themselves, do not serve in the IDF, do not pursue modern education, and draw heavily upon welfare from the state. The Talmud says that even the most observant Jews should learn a skill and work at it. Most of
The Israeli Arabs, though enjoying freedoms and opportunities far beyond their brethren elsewhere in the Arab world, restrict the potential involvement of their females and receive second-rate services from the state. This lack of services breeds resentment, and makes them more likely to react with increased affinity for radical Palestinians in the West Bank or
The book doesn’t stray from its primary focus by offering “solutions” to these major hot-buttons within
Co-author Saul Singer wrote to me: "We just didn't think it fit within the scope of the book to go into the solutions that different studies have advocated on this point.” Singer refers the reader to the study “Israel 2028,” which recommends “a wide-ranging, visionary national strategy, as well as perseverance and forbearance.” Reviewing its 310 pages of details, and the many other studies with which
By raising the issue the book has sent me, at least, deeper into these pressing issues, which also lay at the core of many of the seemingly intractable dilemmas in finding a stronger financial and security and, hopefully, peace for
Regarding the Haredim, proportional representation in the Knesset should be reduced, to reduce the ability of small political parties to stymie reforms. Service in the IDF should be required (at least initially in segregated units for those who want/demand that), to increase Haredim participation in Israel's modern economy.
Regarding the Israeli Arabs, whose frustration at second rate services lends sympathy toward radicalization of their self-identity as "Palestinians", reforms are needed to include much more "justice" (Jewish morality) in portioning out social services. (It worked in building Hamas!)
These measures are contributory to the nascent efforts in the
Israel has successfully dealt with and countered these enemies of peace and progress for the past 60-years.
The website for the book is www.startupnationbook.com
Tracked: Nov 09, 05:41
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So, WHY does the US government let rogue terrorist nations, such as Syria and Iran, threaten the very existence of this valuable resource?
cas, for the same reasons (or unreasoning) that leads the government to redirect the US economy back to the days of high taxation, rigid regulations, public sector jobs, union rigidities and favoritism, and uncertain investment prospects.
Nuts or evil, the results are the same.
I think the author gave the biggest clue to the success of Isreali individual enterprize and that is comity of purpose. In my experience, and one in which I completely agree with the author, Israelies have a strong, one might say profound, sense of community which tends to amplify and enhance their ability to work through commonly shared problems.
This, in my opinion, is where we have lost our way as that sense of common purpose which, combined with a strong streak of individuality, made us powerful and rich has been supplanted by the concept of diversity - celebrated as that which makes us strong but only serves to accentuate our difference.
Isreal's real strength is in the ability to assimilate different Jewish cultures to the common purpose even while adapting and allowing for cultural differences as we do the opposite.
Very intersting read.
Have always held Israel in high regard, ever since its modern inception in 1948. In 1952 and 1953, when I was working at Princeton for the Institute for Advanced Study, I was living in Roosevelt, New Jersey, seventeen miles away. Roosevelt was one of the Greenbelt communities, built by the US government on an old chicken farm to house members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union who were nearing retirement and ready to live in pleasanter circumstances than New York City afforded.
As I was commuting back and forth to Roosevelt, I would see, walking along the road, young folks who had visited their parents to say farewell before heading overseas to join other young idealists working on the kibbutzes in the newly formed state. I would give them lifts into Princeton. And listen to them, in their bright enthusiasm, talk about the new state and its bright future.
Since then, as this book's authors point out, Israel has become one of the wonders of the world in innovative technology on all fronts, from agriculture, to manufacturing, to computing, to ... well, almost anything new and beneficial to modern civilization. Like friends of a couple who have produced a genius baby, I'm proud to have witnessed it, this amazing start-up nation, which has worked such amazing miracles out of such barren soil.
It hasn't been easy. The Mid East is a powder keg which repeatedly threatens to blow up and destroy the most civilized of its nations in the explosion. But I have faith in these people who continue to amaze us. And I pray for their survival.
This transplanted American Jew has worked in Israeli hi-tech for almost 20 years.
1) The old-boy army network can stifle as well as encourage entrepreneurship. The upper echelons of the army are still dominated by the Ashkenazi elite that wields disproportionate economic and political clout. Sephardic and North African Jews - who have proven their entrepreneurial skills in the international retail, real estate, and garment sectors - are still under-represented in academic and technology fields.
2) Tom Francis is right about community. Israelis equally value both independent thought AND social cohesion. This is being reformulated as the old socialist ways are supplanted by consumerism - but it still survives.
Many of the people I work with could easily prosper in Silicon Valley or other less stressful places - but they dislike the extreme, alienating individualism of American society, and do not want to leave the rich web of social ties from family, community, school, and army.
3) The haredim are entering general Israeli society - and the workforce - by the back door. The rabbis put a brave face on it, but the community has reached a crisis of insolvency, with attendant social problems.
The army sees them as another pool of loyal, motivated manpower - like the so-called "modern" Orthodox - and has created several programs that accommodate haredi religious stringencies. Some of these programs include vocational training.
Paradoxically, haredi women are more likely than men to enter fields related to hi-tech. The men are pushed to study Torah, the women study programming and other "clean" white collar professions to support their families.
Every major firm I've worked for has had a handful of haredi workers - typically men in lab technician/quality assurance roles and women in programming.
4) The influx of Soviet Jews has positively influenced Israel's educational system. Many Russian Jews with academic/technical training are underutilized due to cultural issues and a lack of opportunity (!) - and some Russian Jews are already prominent entrepreneurs.
5) Between the haredim, Sephardim, and the Soviet emigres - there is still a lot of untapped human potential. You ain't seen nothing yet!