Insights from my Israel Start-up Immersion

by Janet Sernack

Rear view of businesswoman holding gears in palm

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and retreat, reflect, immerse myself in and percolate the generative learning’s from my 6-year misadventure in Israeli start-up land. When I managed to identify, summarize and edit the 5 key learning’s I was surprised at how profound they were and how essential they are, as foundations, to ultimate 21st-century business enterprise innovation and leadership success.

The 5 Key Learnings in Detail

1. Innovation emerges from colliding Necessity with Possibility

I discovered that Israel defies any kind of conventional culture model definitions, whilst it is essentially driven by a strong survival need; this is balanced by an equally strong inherently need for self-actualization and self-transcendence.  This might create entropy that some suggest is not sustainable for the long term.  However, it manifests as a collision between the “necessity” (survival) need and “possibility” (making the world a better place need) that creates the intrinsic motivation required to effect an explosion of creativity that results in radical and disruptive innovations.

Why is this important for successful enterprise innovation?

At ImagineNation™ we believe that innovation is the result of a COLLISION between different programming perspectives and thought patterns (specifically our necessity and possibility metaprograms). Typically, most organizations tend to focus only the “necessity” and “survival” perspectives – “innovate or perish”. This causes them to see innovation as a lever for “moving away” from some kind of undesirable current reality or future state. This often results in what we describe as a “push” approach, that tells people what they must do and how to do it.  This energy often results in a more conventional, conformist and hierarchical type of response, because people will conform to what is required of them as well disengage because they are denied any autonomy.

Organizations who choose to focus their attention more on the “possibility” and “opportunity” perspectives on innovation, causes them to see innovation as a lever for “moving toward” some kind of more desirable future state. This results in what we describe a “pull” energy, that inquires and asks them what could be done and how it could be done.  This creates a more engaged, committed, collective and creative response because people have the opportunity to retreat, reflect, explore options for change in an autonomous way that draws on their mastery, and encourages smart risk taking and experimentation on the change journey.

We encourage our clients to take a “both/and” approach, to intentionally collide necessity (need for organizational survival) with possibility (the need to make a difference to the world) as a basis for directing and harnessing their intrinsic motivation.  To articulate this as a Passionate Purpose (why frame) for innovation, resulting in an explosion of creativity mobilized by a sense of passionate urgency that ultimately leads to innovative breakthroughs and solutions!

2. Constructive Nonconformity & Disagreement drive creativity that results in innovation

The Israeli culture is exemplified by a state of constant “conflict” and argumentativeness at all levels; between individuals, peoples, groups the government and neighboring territories.  In a unique way, this makes Israel and many Israeli’s expert and masterful in deviating from a “business as usual” ways of doing things; by dissenting and using dissonance to challenge the status quo (no matter what it is), by defying convention and by generating imaginative higher level “out of the box” thinking through their assertive, candid creative problem solving provocative debates.

Why is this important for successful enterprise innovation?

At ImagineNation™ we teach our clients how to be safely disruptive and provocatively competent, which means they develop the creative confidence and generative discovery skill set (listening, inquiring and debating – constructive non-conformity) to be, think and act differently.   This means that they know how to see, respond to, disrupt and deviate from organizational norms, other people’s actions, and expectations, to use dissonance and dissent constructively to make the difference they want to make in the world in ways that people value and cherish.

3. The power of adversity, positivity, optimism and individuality

Israel has a seemingly traumatized population, with a deep sense of self-centeredness and an overall impatience, all with a population of approximately 8.5 million people. It is often marginalized globally, is surrounded by hostile neighbors, at the edge of chaos and in the face of complexity and is yet contained in a land the size of Tasmania. Yet most Israeli’s embody an incredible ability to be agile, adaptive, resilient and defiant in the face of risk and adversity. They are able to deal with adverse situations whilst sustaining an inherently optimistic outlook, positive mindset and ability to improvise under often extenuating circumstances.

Why is this important for successful enterprise innovation?

At ImagineNation™ we have drawn inspiration from how Israel provides the world with a microscopic, adaptive and replicable example of how to be agile in adapting to adversity, uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility as levers for resilience, collaboration, creativity, invention, and change. We enable our clients to see, respond to, and solve wicked, business and customer problems as “blue ocean” possibilities; to operate defiantly in the face of opposition, resistance and constraints. They cultivate the core traits of passion, optimism, self-efficacy, individualism, achievement, accountability and positivity which are at the core of every Israeli start-up entrepreneurs’ success story.

4. Emerging a new paradigm for 21st-century leadership

When I arrived in Israel in 2010, I faced a harsh new reality which defied all of my previous organizational roles, as well as most of what I had been taught and experienced about high-performance organizational cultures, leaders, and teams. Aptly illustrated by Dov Frohman founder of Intel Israel in his book ‘Leadership the Hard Way’ where he states that “leadership in today’s economy is a lot like flying a plan through a thunderstorm” and defines innovation as “the ability to take risks and create fundamentally new ways of doing things.”

I quickly realized that some of the current approaches to organizational learning and development were irrelevant to future potential clients inside and outside of my then new homeland.  I was curious as to what could potentially constitute learning new ways of successful transformative innovative 21st-century leadership as leaders face “new kinds of risks and new kinds of threats- not only to their organizations but sometimes to the very lives of their employees”.

Why is this important for enterprise innovation?

At ImagineNation™ we follow the advice of Albert Einstein who aptly stated that “you can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it”. For an organization to be able to innovate people must have great leaders, these are people who understand how they impact on others and how they impact on the business enterprise culture. Leaders who drive innovation by taking a strategic and systemic approach, and by making it safe and possible for people to innovate. The most effective leaders lead from behind to harness and mobilize people’s collective genius because they know that most innovation is the result of a collaborative effort by a diverse group.

5. Creating an innovation eco-system to co-operate internally and compete externally

One of the key critical success factors behind Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship is the successful Israeli innovation eco-system.  This is described as the cluster of world-class universities, government agencies, venture capitalists, large organizations, the (IDF) Israel Defense Forces, Start-Ups, and the collaborative eco-system that connects them.

Israel has developed the concept of an “economic cluster” into a unique collaborative and competitive internal state driven, innovative eco-system. This is a result of its unique set of cultural attributes including maximizing diversity, willingness to experiment and fail, creative teaming and “networks for life” as well as government support initiatives. Israel has created a business environment where all of the key pieces and important parts work together to support and enable their start-up business enterprises to be nimble and adaptive, innovative and successful in an uncertain and unstable world.

Why is this important for successful enterprise innovation?

At ImagineNation™ we encourage our clients to take a longer term, non-linear and perspective and emergent approach innovation. To apply it as a strategic and systemic lever to adapt to the disruption and variation involved in innovation as positive factors simultaneously. We have deciphered, defined, modeled and replicated the key attributes that enable the innovation ecosystem concept to be adapted to suit specific individual and organizational needs. This means that individuals, functions, business units, organizations and even industries can take advantage of globalization and our interconnected world to collaborate effectively to see and solve customer problems and deliver greater user experiences.

So what does all this mean really?

For organizations to respond, flow and flourish with the wide range of 21st-century challenges, business wicked and customer problems we suggest they focus on developing their capability in three key areas;

  • Developing innovative leadership, entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial capacities, innovation focused organizational strategies, cultures and innovative ecosystems!
  • Transforming possibilities, constraints, challenges and wicked, business and customer problems by harnessing and mobilizing people’s collective genius into user-friendly creative inventions and innovative solutions, products, and services that people value and cherish.
  • Fearlessly experimenting and calculated risk taking to discover, design and deliver innovative prototypes that cause them to fail fast to learn quickly that result in radical and disruptive solutions.

image credit: bigstockphoto.com

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janet-sernackJanet Sernack is an ICF ACC accredited executive coach, corporate trainer, group facilitator and culture and change consultant with over 25 years of experience with some of Australasia’s and Israel top 100 companies. She is the Founder of ImagineNation™ a generative and provocative innovation education company that provides innovation e-learning programs including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program™ experiential learning events including The Start-Up Game™ and culture transformation projects that enable people and corporations to develop a strategic and systemic innovation culture and internal capability.

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