What High Performers Can Learn From The Israeli Mindset

My most recent entrepreneurial retreat to Israel solidified their growing reputation in my head as the “Startup Nation” that fosters an unbreakable entrepreneurial culture and mindset that all high performing individuals and organizations can learn from.

Like most curious entrepreneurs do before going to do business in a new country, I did my homework before coming to Israel by reading Startup Nation; a book that walks you through Israel’s short and courageous history and how it relates to it being the most entrepreneurial country per capita in the world (measured by Venture Capital raised).

After getting an inside look at what Tel Aviv University’s brightest minds and the most disruptive companies in Israel are building, I was able to calibrate my research with my personal experience to distil its winning formula down to the following essential components which anyone committed to self and organizational growth should seriously consider.

Embrace a culture of questioning your superiors when necessary

In most societies, it is engrained from a young age that your superiors are wiser than you and should not be questioned. Whether it’s at home or in the office, hierarchies govern our society and they likely will forever – Israel’s army saw this a little differently and in turn, so did the tech companies many of its soldiers went on to create after serving. From the ripe age of 18, there is mandatory conscription for Israelis and on day one, they are trained to challenge their commanders when they see things differently. Israeli’s realize that not even the people at the top have complete information or the best insight in certain situations thus, to make decisions based off of ranking rather than a collaborative effort to find the truth is short-sighted.

Teams must strike the optimal balance between making efficient decisions form the top and fostering a culture that challenges them when there is imperfect information or a blind spot that hasn’t been exposed. The key to accomplish this is creating a culture that reinforces this kind of behaviour and builds an adequate amount of trust and collaboration from the very beginning.

Turn uncontrollable threats and constraints into your intellectual property

Israel has been through fourteen wars between its 1948 inception and present day and is constantly under threat by many of its neighbouring nations in the Middle East. It’s also limited in natural resources and population size and has been forced to use its constraints as a catalyst for bold innovation specifically within cyber security, agriculture, water desalination, and life sciences.

Anywhere from the sole founder startup to the Amazon’s of the world, there are constant threats and constraints that limit progress and force difficult decisions to be made. What the Israeli approach has implemented to counter this reality is to be laser-focused on where it diverts resources. They use their unique challenges as healthy pressure to innovate and turn shortfalls into new opportunities to become global leaders.

Have relentless tenacity and “Chutzpah” for the things you believe in

Related to the previous point, few things succeed without an insane level of tenacity and Chutzpah, a term fondly described as having the audacity to take on bold and seemingly crazy challenges for better or worse. Israel has built a culture around this primarily out of necessity, as it has had to continuously prove enemies and trade partners wrong in its capabilities.

Being a Canadian, I can’t travel to a new country without being reminded about our culture of being too polite or conservative. And while I proudly stand by erring on this side of the spectrum versus the polar opposites, I do believe that many cultures avoid confrontation and therefore give up or act as bystanders even when something undeniably adverse occurs right in front of them. I believe the first step in tackling this complex issue is to simply be aware of what the costs of complacency and not putting up a fight when needed are for your organization – eventually necessity will force you to take adequate measures.

Diversity is king

Many people can see Israel as a nation with ruthless tactics and intolerance for other cultures – this can be debunked when you look at the data. When Israel was formed, it opened its borders to Jews from all different parts of the world and today it boasts huge populations from Russia, Morocco, Romania, Iraq, Ethiopia, Poland and Tunisia, which make up one quarter of its 8,885,000 population.

More than 400 multinationals have R&D centers in Israel and it attracts cultures from all over the world to collaborate.

As globalization continues to surge and create more interdependence, creating a culture with strong diversity policies and an acute awareness for cultural differences creates an advantage to scale and implement holistic solutions to complex problems.

You are as strong as your ability to deliver under any circumstance

Throughout many of its wars, there has been concern from outside investors on whether Israel was a stable enough to invest in and rely on their steady growth. Many company’s staff have showed up during bomb threats and made the tough decision to endure the risk of their livelihood instead of losing trust from the global economy.  

Israel has managed to leverage its harsh and uncomfortable realities into continuous innovation that has propelled it into arguably the most densely innovative nation in the world.

Most developed nations and growing organizations will be in less extreme political and economical climates and now must ask themselves how they can avoid complacency and leverage perhaps more fortunate circumstances with the Israeli mentality of continuously pushing the borders of what’s possible.