Book Review: Startup Nation
Startup Nation – The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor & Saul Singer
I full admit that I’m a startup junkie. I love to hear the rags-to-riches stories of entrepreneurs who had great ideas and then the guts to follow through on making something special. It’s the quintessential American capitalism story and I get my monthly fix in Inc and Entrepreneur magazines.
So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that I read a good deal about startups. Entrepreneurship, venture capital, and the art of creating something from nothing are just fascinating, in my opinion. Oddly enough though, I got this book recommendation from David Birnbrey of Shopping Center Group.
(When I am meeting with industry veterans to pick their brains and look for wisdom I almost always ask for good book recommendations. Startup Nation was Birnbrey’s recommendation.)
I usually expect books that are country-specific to be overly patriotic or home country propaganda. This wasn’t like that. Startup Nation is basically just an examination of the culture created in Israel that has pushed this tiny nation to be one of the top 5 most innovative cultures on the planet.
The author asked, “How can such a tiny country with such limited natural and human resources become such a technology and innovation giant?“
A large part of the answer, it turns out, comes from the IDF. The Israeli Defense Force is the national military that protects this small nation from hostile neighbors. Senor found out that the IDF culture is one of improvisation and questioning authority.
For example, he found that in an air raid all planes and pilots will know the main objectives of the mission and do what is necessary to accomplish those objectives. If one plane is shot down or fails to hit a target, another plane will carry out the bombing run with the remaining explosives it has on board. Seems logical, right?
Well in the U.S. Military (and apparently most national militaries), all planes are to stick to their objectives and ONLY their objectives. Any deviation from the prescribed flight pattern will lead to reprimand and possibly disciplinary action. Not so in the IDF.
The IDF has created a system where you are encouraged to go “off-script” if it will lead to accomplishing the major objectives of the mission.
The IDF also encourages questioning superiors.
If you disagree with the judgment of a superior officer, question him or challenge her respectfully. The IDF seems to believe that leaders should have accountability to those they lead and apparently it’s not uncommon for privates to go over the heads of captains when they disagree on decisions or actions.
So the IDF actively promotes a culture where all servicemen and women are asked to consider the broader goals of the military and to actively question authority. Senor argues that this culture leads to a fantastic startup culture once these soldiers enter the private business market. Since all adults in Israel are required to serve in the military, it’s easy to see why this mentality pervades the entire adult population of Isreal.
While the IDF argument was my favorite theory, Senor provides ample resources and supporting arguments for why Israel has become so innovative. Be sure to check out his argument on why Charles DeGaulle was responsible for the rapid ascension of Israeli weapons technology and why Intel owes much of its chip-selling success to Israel.
The reason I am including this book in our Commercial Real Estate Bookshelf, is that I think it is crucial to understand innovative culture. If we aspire to be next-generation leaders in the commercial real estate industry, then we had better gain a firm grasp on creating innovative cultures. If we do not innovate, we will be passed.
So, if you aspire to inspire, then I recommend reading Startup Nation and taking note of how the leaders described in the book use deliberate and intentional practices to create environments conducive to some of the best work on the planet. If you can replicate that type of environment, there is no telling how far you and your company can go in the business.
Startup Nation in Two Sentences: The tiny middle-eastern country of Israel has become a global hotbed for innovation and technology startups. This culture of innovation can be attributed to a national culture of questioning authority, improvisation, and a few other key historical events that have forced the Israeli people to innovate or perish.
Pros: Solid arguments on the foundation of innovation, Good historical examples, Easy read and interesting anecdotes
Cons: A bit redundant at times and can seem like an Israeli tourism magazine ad
Target Audience: Those who aspire to create an atmosphere of innovation
This book is best for: Business leaders looking to replicate an innovative culture
Overall Rating: ♦♦♦♦ (out of 5)
Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:
♦ = Not worth your time
♦♦ = May be worth your time if it is specific to your industry or interests
♦♦♦ = A decent book and worthy addition to your library depending on your interests
♦♦♦♦ = A great book and an excellent addition to your library.
♦♦♦♦♦ = One of the all time classics. A must-read for anyone and everyone.