Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle

Twelve  2009


Israel, a country the size of New Jersey and surrounded on all sides by hostile nations, has more companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange than the next five foreign countries combined. In this book, Dan Senor and Saul Singer, two Middle East experts, explain how Israel’s unique history and challenges have created such a favorable environment for high tech entrepreneurs.

In short, the authors credit a combination of five characteristics: Israel’s strategic isolation, the centrality of its military, its close connections with and support from its diaspora, and its pioneering origins. With references to history and by means of personal anecdotes, Senor and Singer introduce the reader to many of the people who have helped make household names of companies such as Intel, Cisco, Google, and many others equally important but less familiar as well as to visionaries such as David Ben-Gurion and President Shimon Peres who created a nation that values and encourages innovation.

A Council on Foreign Relations Book, Start-Up Nation is highly readable and opens the reader’s eyes to Israel’s uniqueness and explains how it differs from other countries also known for their high-tech industries such as China, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. Bibliography, index, notes.

Discussion Questions

1. Senor and Singer note Israel’s “multitasking mentality” (p 187). In your experience, in which ways are Israelis multitaskers? Why has this mentality become ingrained in their culture? How is such a mindset uniquely helpful to Israel? 

2. In the book, authors Senor and Singer interview an Israeli air force commander who tells them, “We don’t cheerlead you excessively for a good performance, and we don’t finish you off permanently for a bad performance.” They go on to suggest that Israeli culture is tolerant of “intelligent failure.” Where do you think this tolerance comes from? Have there been situations in your own life where similar tolerance helped you? 

3. On page 66, Alex Vieux, CEO of Red Herring magazine says, “the others [other companies] are always making a pitch for their specific company. The Israelis are always making a pitch for Israel.” What are the advantages to a company touting its nation as opposed to itself? 

4. Much is written on the role that Israel’s military plays in the country’s success. According to Start-Up Nation, mandatory military service fosters leadership, teamwork, innovation, and self-reliance. Do you think that mandatory military service (or mandatory service of any kind) is something that all countries should adopt? Is it possible that mandatory military service might work better in Israel than it would in other countries? 

5. In the book, there’s a quote from Yuval Dotan which reads, “If most air forces are designed like a Formula One race car, the Israeli Air Force is a beat-up jeep with a lot of tools in it….Here, you’re going off-road from day one. The race car is just not going to work in our environment.” What do you think Dotan means by this? Is this to say a race car model wouldn’t work in Israel?

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