Israel & Innovation: Understanding the Cultural Roots

ISRAEL & INNOVATION:  For the same cultural reasons as Finland…

By Dean Foster

Last week, we explored the cultural roots of innovation, discovering a connection between strong egalitarianism, and collectivist or collaborative orientation, as the cultural prerequisites for an innovation ethos.  Alternately, a strong orientation to hierarchy typically produces a climate that resists innovation, while a strong orientation toward individualistic competitive and non-collaborative behaviors, while allowing the occasionally unique idea to surface, is usually not as productive in creating an abundance of innovative ideas as a collaborative, consultative, environment.  The global evidence for this phenomena is revealed in global studies on innovation, with Finland and Israel consistently ranking on top, while global economic giants like China and Japan don’t even make the list (and the US is near, though not at, the top).  While we know that these cultural pre-conditions are fundamental, the political and economic policies that typically develop in these countries usually, no surprise, reflect these cultural fundamentals, further enhancing the blossoming of innovation, while the economic and political policies that emerge in hierarchically oriented cultures usually stifle whatever small seeds of innovation might be stirring.

Israel mirrors these cultural requirements: like Finland, a small country, with a strong collaborative social ethos (i.e., the “kibbutz”), and an almost knee-jerk rejection of hierarchically-imposed authority, the cultural roots of innovation are in place.  And the economic policies that emerge from being a small, innovative, socially collaborative culture require an emphasis on export, and a typically social-welfare based system, along with high taxes to pay for it all, at home.  All countries, of course, bring their own unique aspects to these formulas, as we discovered when we compared Finland, China, the Japan and the US.  If we bring Israel into the mix, we need to also consider the unique Israeli cultural aspects, including the daily – if not hourly – requirement for continuous flexibility, with an accompanying sometimes manic effort to reduce risk and uncertainty.  The fundamental cultural orientations of extreme egalitarianism and collectivist collaboration (as long as you are inside the group), coupled with the pressure for intense flexibility and control of uncertain situations, yields the remarkably innovative climate of Israel.  For more measures of who’s got the greatest cultural distance to go when it comes to innovation, go to and click for a free demo of our CultureCompass cultural comparison tool.

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