Book review: Start-Up Nation

We climbed into a cab in Jerusalem early one morning and after asking where we were headed, our driver launched into an impassioned monologue about the wrong-headed thinking of some low-level bureaucrat to send the street cleaners off to work at 8 a.m. on a work day.

“They should be cleaning the streets in the middle of the night,” he yelled. “They don’t know what they’re doing in this government. They’re doing this street clenaing all wrong!”

I chalked his insistent tirade up to the chutzpah that permeates Israeli society. But Dan Senor and Saul Singer, the authors of Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, would see his insistence on voicing a better way to do things as key to what has made this 61-year old state become a major player on the world economic stage. Israel has more companies on the NASDAQ than all of Europe, Korea, Japan, Singapore, China and India COMBINED.

Senor and Singer explore the unique culture created by persecution, mandatory military service, the melting pot of immigration, lack of shame for business failures, cross-pollination of ideas and people, and the urgent need to learn how to survive when surrounded (and occasionally attacked) by enemies. Israel’s business successes seem nonsensical – impossible, even. Start-up Nation explores the cultural, educational, social, emotional, and commercial factors that have allowed this beleagured nation to bloom in the desert. One small beef: the authors omitted the place of faith in the mix in their study of Israeli business/culture. Because faith is foundational to Israeli existence, even secular Jews are shaped by the faith culture all around them.

This highly readable, well-researched 300-page hardcover book should be mandatory reading for anyone involved in a non-profit organization or for-profit business. It is possible to foster a culture of innovation within an organization if those in charge have the chutzpah to flatten hierarchy and fight institutionalism. Recommended.

*Note: I received this book as a review copy from the publisher.

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