People prefer remembering to imagining. Memory deals with familiar things; imagination deals with the unknown.” That’s the foreword by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in the book Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.
The late PM asserts that innovation in Israel started in agriculture. Why? They discovered early on they had land that was infertile, with insufficient water and thus turned to “invention and technology.”
This was underscored by Israel’s first PM David Ben-Gurion who said “All the experts are experts on what was. There is no expert on what will be. To become an “expert” on the future, vision must replace experience.”
Reading Start-Up Nation, the drive with which the military, geopolitical, agricultural, economic positions Israel finds itself is clear to see. It’s a drive that has spurred it’s human capital to not only find ways of self-sufficiency, but use the technical know-how, battlefield experience and grit to find solutions in the worlds of healthcare and science through academic research and technological advances that reflect in the nation’s GDP.
The book takes us through the path of most resistance, and how the Middle Eastern nation set its foot in the world as we know it today. The founding PM’s view was ‘every policy – should serve the objective of nation building.” And this is seen among other factors as an integral part in the foundation Israel set for the nation that it is today.
The obvious conscription into the army is a factor that is considered heavily by the authors as helping build the psych of the nation too.
The book gives tips on how to be a start-up at government level, across all industries, with calculated risks taken whether an initiative was successful or not. Either way there is something to be learned.
The societal dynamics underscore how unafraid Israelites are to start over. They’re predominantly a nation of entrepreneurs with a keen interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, who question authority and are driven to succeed while the missiles still fall.
The book states, “Israelis, by making their economy and their business reputation both a matter of national pride and a measure of national steadfastness, have created for foreign investors a confidence in Israel’s ability to honour, or even surpass, its commitments.”
It is clear that the nation’s interest in technology is not just a matter of survival, but “it is a cultural mark that lies at the heart of what makes Israel so innovative. It is a product of the multidisciplinary backgrounds that Israelis often obtain by combining their military and civilian experiences.”
The conscription-based army model and their openness to learn and admit fault make it a petri-dish of chain reactions that include their aptness at fundraising for start-ups as well as tenacity to keep pitching and going at negotiations to the fruition of deals wherever in the world they might be, adds to the appeal of Israel to the world as a technology hub.
There is no divorcing their origins to their technological developments, scientific advancements and the conflicts they have to endure, that even in victory, they have to debrief and find better ways of doing the ordinary. It’s Israeli “secret sauce” that any nation can do better by learning from them.
“The world’s major companies learned long ago that the simplest way to benefit from Israeli innovations is to buy an Israeli start-up, set up an Israeli research and development(R&D) center, or both.”
Can this be said of Kenya’s ‘Silicon Savannah’ and the white elephant that is Konza City? Besides M-Pesa, how can we leverage on the leapfrogging this advanced us to not only host these R&D centres but also gain the much needed foreign exchange earnings?
This 309-page book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer will make you think deeply about our education and how we can make the much needed “Kenyan secret sauce” to become the true leading light in sub-Saharan Africa, our diversities and communal experiences included.
The importance of scaling up these investments too comes to the fore and how government agencies can collaborate with the private sector to look at the innovations of the future, and how players in the specialized security sectors can add to the pot of growth, not just the niche industries they find themselves in, but how can we leverage on their battlefront, security, technological expertise to become a better Silicon Savannah?
The Start-Up Nation is a great class in nation-building and importance of improvisation. It is a fantastically written, well researched book that anyone in education, leadership and innovation ought to read.