Five Things That Make Israelis Who We Are: Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs all over the world take risks, practically by definition; and,
even more importantly, they are not deterred by negative thinking.
But how come tiny, conflicted Israel, with less than nine million residents, has been rated by Deloitte for the fourth year in second place for startup investment after the US (http://www.globes.co.il/en/article-deloitte-israel-best-for-investment-after-silicon-valley-1001069595)? And how come Tel-Aviv, Israel’s business center, has more than 1,000 early-stage startups – the highest per capita in the world?
Risk-taking is one of the main characteristics of the Israeli business culture. Israelis view risk as a challenge that might pay off really well. Even during times of crisis, most of the entrepreneurs that I know exhibit even more courage than usual, with an air of “it’s now or never.” Life in Israel has never been easy, so people here have a huge desire to break through barriers and “make it big.” Some cultures grow up on soccer, some on food, and we in Israel have become a society that’s growing up on innovation. Here are five facts that have shaped us as the entrepreneurs that we are:
Israel is a young, tiny country, first recognized as a modern political state by the United Nations in 1948. Before independence celebrations could even begin, we were already attacked by enemies from all sides. Consequently, from our very first day as a state in our ancestral land, we have understood that this is a place where absolutely everything must be fought for. Nothing is comfortable or certain, and not even our existence may be taken for granted.
Israel covers 20,770 square kilometers (roughly the size of New Jersey or Wales), and borders, in clockwise order, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. We cannot jump in the car and do business with our neighbors, such as Germans, for example, can with Belgians, French, Austrians, etc. This is neither Europe nor America. Here we are trapped inside our geographical borders, and getting out means driving to Ben-Gurion International Airport and flying off to some close-ish or far-off destination. With only some eight million residents inside our country, two facts were created on the ground: (1) whoever wants business success needs the global market, so every product we’ve developed since day one targets international consumers. And (2) we want to be liked and we understand that English as a second language is a vital tool for us.
2.High-power “melting pot”:
Jews have been accustomed to facing and overcoming adversity throughout history. They never had it easy in the Diaspora, either; even following World War II hate crimes against Jews have persisted most everywhere. Israel was founded by people who were taking a risk. Many could have moved to the modern “Promised Land” – the United States, but chose instead to settle in Israel and build “something out of nothing.” There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the Holy Land since Biblical times, and after the establishment of the State, Israel ingathered not only persecuted refugees but also people of strong faith and ambition. We became a melting pot of brave souls, first from Eastern Europe, then North Africa and the Middle East, followed by Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. To this day, optimistic, idealistic, creative new immigrants continue to arrive from North America and from France and the rest of Europe.
Israel defends its security with the help of almost all its citizens. The Israel Defense Forces are a people’s army, with mandatory conscription for both men and women. Early on, we became a mission-oriented society in which military values spill over into civilian life. Our cities and towns are all on the front line; our soldiers are literally protecting their families and homes. They fight responsibly and bravely, and then bring that same mentality into the professional and business realms, as well as everyday living.
In the army we learn how to plan, as well as being taught that every plan is subject to change at any given moment, so we also learn how to adapt and improvise. Furthermore, our history has shown us that we only have ourselves and each other to rely on. We meet most of our closest friends during our army service, and those are often the people we subsequently go into business with. Most everyone has heard of the Military Intelligence Corps’ 8200…largely due to its famous young veterans. An article published in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/12/israel-military-intelligence-unit-tech-boom) states: “Israel’s Unit 8200 has spawned more technology millionaires than many business schools.” In July 2013, former IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz awarded the unit special recognition for its “outstanding and paramount achievements in the operational activity of the IDF.” Here is just a partial list of the unit’s nationally and globally successful graduates:
Gil Shwed and Shlomo Kramer, founders of Check Point
Tomer Barel, SVP, Global Chief Data Officer of PayPal International
Shlomo Tirosh, a founder of Gilat Satellite Networks
Ronen Barel, CEO of Ernst & Young, Israel
4.Acceptance of failure:
In Asian cultures there is a great fear of failing, which is a source of shame in front of friends and family as well as colleagues. Here in Israel, it’s considered fine to fail; in fact, businesspeople who have failed say so openly and flippantly, even proudly. Failing is part of their personal lore about gaining experience and learning how to properly manage subsequent endeavors. (For more on this subject, see my blog The Positive Attitude toward Failure in the Culture of Israeli Innovation.) Israel’s positive attitude toward failure is a significant factor in the business success of many Israelis. Already in elementary school, teachers encourage schoolchildren to dare and attempt new things. The emphasis is on trying and not giving up. Not trying is cause for anger. Trying and failing is fine, since you learn from it. As the cofounder of Waze, Uri Levine, has said, “Behind every journey of success there is a history of failure” (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/advice-uri-levine-man-sold-waze-1-1b-article-1.2596074).
An entrepreneur needs a supportive environment, which is what has been built in Israel, starting with entrepreneurs who “made it” and then became “angels” (investors using private capital) and mentors for the next generation, and up through government support via the Israeli Innovation Authority (formerly the Office of the Chief Scientist). Israelis live and breathe innovation. There are over 90 accelerators, the most well-known being Microsoft Ventures, IBM Alpha Zone and 8200 EISP. Just in the center of the country are more than 50 co-working spaces and shared hubs, such as Wework, SOSA, Mindspace and many many more. Giant corporations have long since opened their own innovation and R&D centers in Israel, e.g., IBM. Ebay, HP, AT&T. Now the digital mapping service Here, owned by the powerhouse German carmakers Audi, BMW, and Daimler-Mercedes, is establishing an innovation center here as well.
Everyone wants to know how we became a hi-tech superpower.
From my experience in consulting for international companies in Israel and abroad, I found that the characteristics of the Israeli business culture – such as taking risks and not giving up – may be studied and possibly emulated. But beyond that, would-be entrepreneurs need to be “hungry,” meaning driven by a strong desire to succeed even when negative voices surround them. The next generation also must be educated not to fear failure. My daughter is in 2nd grade, and one of her regular lessons is called “creative thinking.” That’s how a young generation is taught from childhood to think outside the box and not be embarrassed to come up with different ideas. Even if new suggestions are not accepted in the end, the most important thing is to be creative and take a chance. Sometimes you fail but often you succeed, and can even succeed big-time. “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude” (Zig Ziglar).
For more information on the superb help provided by the Israeli government, go to http://innovation-israel-en.mag.calltext.co.il/?article=0
Feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or requests regarding my consulting services and seminars on cross-cultural communication for international companies, or with regard to my bestselling Amazon book Israeli Business Culture (https://www.amazon.com/Israeli-Business-Culture-Effective-Relationship/dp/9659250401/).