On Israeli “chaos”

This post concerns chaos in Israeli business culture. Not all Israelis are equally chaotic and clearly, there is more chaos in an R&D organization than in Finance or Supply Chain.

Yet Israelis as a society (and Israeli organizations) do embrace chaos. This post provides some background about the preference of chaos over order in Israeli organizations.

There are 5 widely used terms for chaos in Hebrew.

1) The Biblical term “tohu vavohu” (תוהו ובוהו)…null and void……as in “and the world was null and void”.  (Genesis 1:2)

2) “”Bardak” (ברדק) a Turkish borrowed word meaning messy and disorganized, although the translation is “brothel”.

3) The term “Kah-os”, (קאוס)clearly from the English chaos.

4) “Buka-umavulaka”, (בוקה ומבלקה) an Aramaic borrow word, a “high level” form of speech, also implying very deep chaos. Rarely spoken but often written. (The term originates in the Book of Nahum).

5) Balagan, yet another very popular borrowed word (from Russian)  to describe lack of order.

These words represents a linguistic need to differentiate between various degrees of the very low level of order in Israeli society.

There are many reasons for the chaos, some of which are:

1) A disdain for planning exists; planning is seen as a luxury of the opulent. Thus, with no planning, there is constant improvisation, which causes a “balagan”.

2) Over-reliance on systems is seen as stupid, and instead of systems, there is a massive use of relationships (including systemic corruption) to bypass systems. The orderliness that systems bring to chaos (Weber) is lost in Israel society.

3) There is a proclivity to re open decisions because nothing is very final, ever.This constant questioning of the status quo creates chaos.

4) Being an immigrant society, Israeli society has with too few shared behavioural codes and thus lots of things are explicit. This causes chaos in interactions.

5) There is a deep rooted belief that the individual must be empowered with ingenuity to work around barriers and obstacles to beat the system. At a societal level, this surely cases “buka umvulaka”.

All of the above creates a lot of creativity, a low level of scalability and lack of discipline.

Managers working with Israelis must realize that the chaos is not something which is startling or upsetting, but rather a platform of interaction, preferable to order for the Israeli. Too much order, or even some order, is perceived as less useful than pliable chaos.

Naturally, there are many exceptions to rule, and you may very well know many Germanic Israelis and orderly Israeli organizations. Yet they tend not to be rule, rather the exception.


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8 thoughts on “On Israeli “chaos”

  1. ) A disdain for planning, which is seen as a luxury of the opulent.
    Planning IS a luxury of the opulent, or at least those who have some degree of money. However the truly opulent have someone else do their planning so all they are left to do is execute.
    2) A lack of belief in systems, and massive use of relationships to bypass systems.
    Systems are so overly complex, filled with non-productive flotsam and not understood in their entirety by almost anyone. When they become completely ineffectual relationships preside. Furthermore relationships support the luxury of the opulent.
    3) The proclivity to re open decisions because nothing is very final, ever.
    Commitment to the path is becoming less frequent – our increased awareness and addiction to options and our acceptance about ‘immature products’ encourages this.
    4) An immigrant society with few shared ways of doing things.
    Hmmmm….I have to think about that one.
    5) Belief that the individual is and must be empowered with ingenuity to work around barriers and obstacles.
    This relates back to the failure of systems to address realities. The systems become so iditotic and yet entrenched that the individual MUST find a way to work around. Working within the process frequently is the route to madness (and failure).
    All of the above create a large balagan, and a lot of creativity, and a low level of scalability.
    This is very true.
    I believe that there is also less interest in quality and the longer term view as these things do not pay off (or at least that is what many laws and policies and provisions indicate). However, I wonder what to do with this. Should there be more push towards scalability and formal systems or should we accept the individualized but more chaotic view?

  2. The lack of understanding of the complexity of humans seems to be missing in your list. Or may be it is a direct consequence of the lack of belief in systems. A large part of the productive world seems engaged in a vast enterprise of social engineering, forcing human beings to commit to opaque decisions, serve often artificial needs, and live (for a majority now!) from pay-check to pay-check. A lot of effort and investment seem to support the system of the productive world, even against dire environmental consequences, as opposed to adapt the system to human needs. But as Maggy put it “I wonder what to do with this?”

  3. Patrick – I miss you !!!

    Are people inherently chaotic? That’s an interesting questions from a neurological point of view. Indeed brain tend to pick up on a lot of static and nonsense – and then act to filter it out. Some filters are tighter than others, so they have a more linear thought process which appears less chaotic. Others have looser filters, gather more data points and think in more networked fashion. They may seem more chaotic. Culture also influences this. On one hand having a ‘system’ that is effective feels good – it meets OUR needs – but is the OUR just a dominant culture? and why then do they tinker with systems that seem to work?

  4. Dear Robin Cook
    According to Wikipedia in its’ Hebrew version, balagan comes from Persian language where it means balcony , then it moved to Turkish, then to Russian, then came with Jewish immigration at the beginning of the 20th century to Israel and became an Hebrew word. The mean of it as a dis-order, came for the way it was used in Russian as a place of storage. http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%91%D7%9C%D7%92%D7%9F

  5. I take your words of caution under serious advisement, Allon. What you are referring to is the the Israeli cultural response to a theme common to all cultures: How do we cope with uncertainty? The French will build the Maginot line, the British will never surrender, the Americans will adapt with thunder on with a positive mindset, Canadians may very well compromise apologetically, Israelis will work around the system and barriers. Each cultural collective brain is capable of constructing self-serving explanations and responses to uncertainty and even use the portions of supportive evidence that suit their constructs, their stories about how to cope with uncertainty. This is what I referred to in my previous post as mythos. Mythos is made up of the historically engendered myths of each culture. This is why there is no common ground to be sought in global OD especially when that seeking consists of homogenizing cultural differences into the mythos that underlie OD as a North American creation. And when I hold such a claim, I am being totally reasonable. It is mythos that is unreasonable. Because OD is part Logos and part Mythos (what J. Scherer refers to as “above the water line” and “under the water line”) a global mindset is founded on humility and an ability to hold differences as the common ground for connection.

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