Israel: a modern day miracle?

Haley Smith ’18: Israel, Section A

It’s hard not to be surprised when you consider the success story of Israel as a nation. Their neighbors are generally unsupportive of them as a country.  Israel is a young nation, being established in only 1948, and thus has had less time to develop expertise and processes, strong academic institutions or global companies.  Beyond this, amongst their population there are large amounts of conflicts, specifically regarding Holy Sites (which also happen to be some of the biggest tourism draws for the country).  This conflict and ensuing safety concerns by tourists have the potential to put much of their tourism industry at risk.

So, what explains Israel’s success? After all, despite these barriers they have top academic institutions, push the limits on cutting edge technology, have one of the most successful start-up communities in the world, and have an incredibly high caliber military system.  Could it be that Israel’s youth works to its advantage?  Maybe Israel actually has the same type of edge that nimble start-ups have over legacy corporations.  Israel is smaller but more agile, able to adjust quickly in changing fortunes.  Israel is also not wed to legacy processes or habits as many other governments and agencies are.  In fact, Israel is explicitly focused on quite the opposite – continuous improvement, which means constant change.

This focus on continuous improvement came up time and time again. At every speaking engagement and in an incredible amount of anecdotes, we consistently heard the value Israelis place on constantly being open to criticizing and improving existing processes.

At a start-up, the CEO was constantly asking how he could improve his radar technology and make it less expensive.  The Mayor of Jerusalem was questioning how he could scale the capacity for structured tourism in Jerusalem.  When we met a woman from a rural area by the Dead Sea, she was questioning how she could further her career beyond what was normal for her micro-society (for the record, she’s already learned English and written a book in a community where most women don’t finish high school).  Even a student leader from our trip sat down on Day 2 to ask me ‘Is this trip the best it could be?  How could we be making this better?’

Most potently, when we visited the air force base, pilots told us about the Israeli Military’s improvement charts, which articulate mistakes made by cadets. The charts require cadets to openly state every single mistake that happened, what caused it, and how to avoid it the following mission.  Our speaker stated ‘A mistake made twice is unacceptable.’  Even when a mission goes perfectly, the officers discuss how it could have been even better.  One officer said this has been so deeply ingrained in him by the army that every time he parks a car, he looks at the lines to evaluate how tidily and efficiently he parked his car.

What I appreciate most about this focus on continuous improvement is that we saw it sincerely everywhere. And as I consider how I would describe my time in Israel – it’s the learnings like these that I value most.  Because yes, the sites have been breath-taking, the spiritual history has been fascinating, and the food has been indescribable.  But more than anything, the people have been inspiring.  The Israeli focus on hard work, innovation, and continuous improvement is more than enough to take home with me.

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