Chutzpah, why Israel is a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship
Interview of Inbal Arieli, by SeedIL Ventures
This article was first published in l’Arche Magazine, Oct-Nov 2019
SV: This is your first book. Why did you decide to write Chutzpah, can you guide us through the genesis of writing it and maybe how you used some chutzpah in the process?
IA: I actually never had a dream to write a book, and if you would have asked my parents, when I was a child, this path would have seen unrelated to me. Rather, like many other initiatives I was involved in along the years, I recognized a growing interest and a real need, and perfect timing to address this need.
In late 2013 I gave an interview at a big conference in the US, where I was asked what is in my opinion, at the root of the success of the Israeli tech ecosystem. The typical answer which is always given is the role the Israeli military, the IDF, plays. Both as a catalyst for tech innovation, as well as the leadership and management skills developed through the military experience. As much as I agreed with this explanation, I believed back then and still believe today this is an outsider’s view. As an Israeli, born and raised in Israel, my view was different. On stage, I shared my thesis with the audience. That was a fresh view for them and going off stage people started asking me “where could I read more?”. By the fifth person who asked, I simply said: “You know what, you’ll have to wait, because I am writing a book about it!”.
That was the first moment of chutzpah in this process, out of many others to come. And so I did. Few years later, while juggling as a key executive in the Israeli tech ecosystem, starting Synthesis, my 3rd business initiative, and parenting 3 young Israeli kids, Chutzpah: Why Israel Is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, published by Harper Collins Business, saw the daylight, on the shelves of all the largest retailers in the US, including Amazon.
SV: Common wisdom has it that mandatory military service is the root of Israel’s thriving high-tech ecosystem. As a former lieutenant in the elite 8200 intelligence unit, and founder of the EISP-8200 program, viewed by many as a prominent start-up accelerator, wouldn’t you agree that the army is the main catalyst of Israel’s success?
For many years, the common belief was that the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force, is the reason for the entrepreneurial mindset that exists in the country. It’s only partially correct.
More important than the IDF, is the toolbox, the personality traits and mindset, Israelis practice and foster from a very young age, as young as 4, enjoying the slide in a typical playground. Risk taking, creativity, resourcefulness and teamwork are few examples for these soft skills we nurture along the Israeli childhood. Then, at the age of 18, we are better equipped when joining the IDF. Living with chutzpah from a young age provides Israelis with the opportunity to constantly practice the soft skills defined by the World Economic Forum as the Skills for the Future: these attributes promote creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and independent decision making — key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs.
SV: Along with « chutzpah », can you guide us through the Israeli signature business principles that are sprinkled in your new book?
IB: - Chutzpah: having the ability to be courageous and daring in a responsible way
- Balagan: a state of chaos with a side of opportunity
- Tachles: being straightforward and reaching the bottom-line quickly and efficiently
- Firgun: being genuinely happy for someone else’s success
- Leezrom: go with the flow and leave room for the unexpected
You can find more words and download the Chutzpah dictionary through http://chutzpahcenter.com/.
SV: Where did you first see the parallels between the lifecycle of a startup business and Israeli childhood?
IA: For the past 2 decades, I held executive positions in Israeli tech companies; founded 3 ventures myself and serve as a board member of top Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship programs. I am also the proud mom of 3 Israeli boys. During that time, I have been gathering insights, data and stories.
My conclusion is that innovation and entrepreneurship do not originate in one magical moment, nor are they the province of a select few born with an ‘innovative gene’, but rather that they are a product of a specific set of skills, ideally nurtured from a very young age.
In Chutzpah, I show how surprisingly, the Israeli childhood and the lifecycle of a business, resemble. In five stages — Discovery, Validation, Efficiency, Scale & Sustainability and Renewal — these two different worlds go hand in hand.
For example, in the early stages of discovery: for Israeli children, living in balagan or state of mess where things don’t have a preordained order. In business, learn through own experiences rather than explicit teaching. During the later stages of validation: Israeli children open up to criticism, test limits, resilience and experimentation. In business, collect feedback and input from outside sources.
Throughout Chutzpah many more examples are provided, and top Israeli tech entrepreneurs share their childhood stories and how these affected their successful business journey.
SV: Who did you think of as your target when you were writing, do you see your book as a parenting book as much as it is a business book?
IA: The primary objective of Chutzpah is to provide insights to businesses executives and start-up founders and providing them with principles and ways to foster and encourage creativity, decision making, teamwork and other elements which result in business growth.
However, many of the principles described in it can be applied to our everyday lives as human beings. Living with chutzpah provides the opportunity to constantly practice the soft skills defined by the World Economic Forum as the skills for the future. In Chutzpah, I wish to offer proven strategies for success to aspiring entrepreneurs, business executives, innovators, parents and policy makers.
SV: In your book, you compare chutzpah to a muscle that needs to be trained from a young age by parents. Would you say that it’s an inherent parenting skill in Israel, and if so, how can parents from other countries and cultures teach these skills to their kids?
IA: Indeed, I recommend practicing these principles as early as possible, even with toddlers. Their soft skills relevant to innovation and entrepreneurship will then be nurtured and fostered in an optimal way. I think of these skills the way I think of our physical anatomy: we all have the same muscles in our bodies, but we use them differently. Some people choose to train and reinforce different muscles than others. But it’s never too late to start practicing, strengthening and nurturing your entrepreneurial skills. Like your muscles — these skills lie deep inside — you just need to be aware of them and set an intention to use them. Younger or older — it’s just never too late.
SV: Do you think Chutzpah can be considered as a natural attribute also to the Jewish people in diaspora, or is this purely Israeli related? By the way, have you planned to have your book translated to French any soon?
IA: I based my research for and thesis in Chutzpah on modern Israel, a very diverse society comprised of people coming from more than 70 nationalities. Jews and Arabs, ultra-orthodox and secular, men and women. Chutzpah has already been acquired for translation in several countries around the world, including Hebrew. I truly hope French will be one of the next languages. As a French speaker myself, that would mean a lot to me.
Time to unleash your own Chutzpah!
About Inbal Arieli
Arieli is the co-CEO of Synthesis, a leadership assessment and development company and author of Chutzpah: Why Israel Is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Arieli fostered her entrepreneurial skills during her mandatory military service, serving as a lieutenant in Unit 8200, the Israel Defense Forces’ elite intelligence corps. After completing her military duties, and for the past twenty years, she embraced leading executive roles in the flourishing Israeli tech sector and has founded a series of programs for innovators, where she currently holds board seats.
Arieli lectures widely to business and government leaders around the world. Arieli also frequently contributes to Forbes, where she explores how businesses can learn from special forces. She holds an LL.B. Law, B.A in Economics and an MBA, all from the Tel Aviv University.
She was featured as one of the 100 most influential people in Israeli tech and as one of the 100 tech business women speakers in the world. She lives in Tel Aviv with her spouse and three.