A country of about 7 million people leads the world in venture capital investments per capita, leads all countries outside of the U.S. for number of companies on the NASDAQ, and leads in civilian research & development expenditures.
In Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle, Dan Senor and Saul Singer attempt to answer how that's possible. And they answer how periods of massive growth have occurred even during times of conflict such as the Second Intifadah and the Second Lebanon War. They make one heck of a case.
If my relatives read my blog, I could predict their reaction – "It's about time. You mentioned 14 books – 14! – about Egypt, and what, you couldn't mention one on Israel where you also just traveled to, to spend a short visit with your family?"
Here, Israel finally gets its due. The book's title sells a miracle and delivers on it. Anyone focused on technology, venture capital, innovation, or geopolitics for that matter should love this.
The answers lie heavily in the army. Even when they're not talking about the army, they're talking about it. They're talking about what officers did when they came out of it. They're talking about how the military was created in the first place, and how it's still evolving today. They're talking about civilian industries that had their roots in the army. And then for a bit, they have a section on immigration – notably Soviet immigration – that doesn't have as much to do with the military.
Here's one example of thought process that comes from the army:
In the Israeli army, soldiers are divided into those who think with a rosh gadol – literally, a "big head" – and those who operate with a rosh katan, or "little head." Rosh katan behavior, which is shunned, means interpreting orders as narrowly as possible to avoid taking on responsibility or extra work. Rosh gadol thinking means following orders but doing so in the best possible way, using judgment, and investing whatever effort is necessary. It emphasizes improvisation over discipline, and challenging the chief over respect and hierarchy.
And yet, it's not all about the army after all. It's about people who have made the most about their training in the army. And it's about people who have taken obstacles – living in a desert surrounded by enemies with too many makeshift industries to name – and turned them into opportunities.
I'll admit it, it's inspiring. And it's a good, quick read where you'll also learn a few surprising tidbits about the history of the semiconductor industry and the future of the automotive industry. The book's full of this rosh gadol thinking, and your rosh probably will get something out of it.