Learning from the Failure of Israeli Intelligence in 2023: Dissenting Opinions in a bureaucracy

The ruling paradigm within Israeli intelligence was that Hamas had been somewhat coopted into a temporary but stable silent agreement to live alongside Israel, aided by Qatari money and periodic minor saber rattling.

One of the so- called “lessons learned” from the catastrophic failure of Israeli to prevent the Hamas invasion was that a “dissenting opinion” from the prevailing paradigm (that Hamas would not attack) within the military and intelligence community was not well tolerated. As a result, warned signs of impending doom were dismissed.

These events are a playback of 1973, when the Egyptians invaded Israel and for a time drove back the IDF. The 1973 lessons learned exercise was as follows:  there was a ruling paradigm (the Egyptians would not dare attack us) from which the Israelis could not see beyond which blinded Israel to the events which unfolded.

These paradigms in Hebrew are called: “conseptsia”, i.e. -preconceptions.

Again and again, the dangers that these paradigms pose are acknowledged and known to all; decisions are made to self-inoculate against such perilous rigidity of thought.

However, the ability of large organizations to tolerate dissenting opinions is non-existent. Let me explain why via a possible example.

A, B, C and D are all senior officers in Unit W-which monitors noise patterns picked up from underground tunnels in the south. Unit W’s commander, named himself W, believes that the noises in the tunnel stem from construction work being done to strengthen the tunnel, not expand it. A disagrees. A believes that within the tunnel, a railway track is being laid and the tunnel itself is being elongated and is thus a strategic threat which needs to be eradicated immediately.

W is about to be retire. W has a long legacy he wants to protect. B, C, and D have always agreed with W’s assumptions, and kissed his arse, as needed, to get promoted. W served as  B, C and D’s winning horse, as it were. These mediocre yes-men were dragged up by kowtowing to W’s complacency or rigidity.

A, the dissenter, if chosen to replace W, will only make W’s legacy into a laughing stock, by making a lot of noise to better verify what’s going on and rectify it.

B got W’s job.

A remained “side-show Bob”.

This is an inherent unchangeable dynamic in a large bureaucracy.  Bureaucracies have NO tolerance for self-correction from internal dissention.

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OD and Lessons Learned Exercises

When an organization as a whole or a subunit goes thru a lessons learned process after a major failure, Organization Development can bring meaningful value, both in designing the exercise and facilitating it, when appropriate.

Herein I shall describe several of the flaws and frequent faults of lessons learned, with the hope that my accrued experience will be of value to the OD practitioner who wants to dip his or even her toes into this water.

Flaw #1: Hidden Agendas

In lessons learned, the big turd on the table is who will get most of the blame. Organizations produce blame, and this blame needs to be parked somewhere. Generally, blame is parked at the politically weakest place. Lessons learned is not about blaming, but learning. While the stated agenda may be learning  there is always another agenda. Very few people will “just” have learning on their mind. There are hidden agendas.

Steve is VP R&D. He committed to an impossible delivery date and failed to deliver. Steve will blame Recruitment’s ability to hire new engineers in the lessons learned process.


Flaw #2: Blaming Process

Lessons learned often surfaces conclusions like “there was deviation from process” in order to “explain away” a major failure. Much process is made of “cover your ass” material, and should not be evoked in lessons learned unless very appropriate. People often don’t follow process because the process is useless, time consuming or irrelevant. So invoking process in lessons learned can be a lesson in futility.

Flaw #3: Put on clean underwear; don’t flip them and wear again

The people who do lessons learned are often the same people who made the mistakes. Thus, lessons learned will also express their weakness and limitations. Incompetence easily seeps into the lessons learned exercise. Or as my Dad used to say, “you cannot look up your own nostrils”. (Actually he said something much cruder).

Flaw #4: Often the flaw is untreatable

When an organization exists because of risk taking, you win a few and you lose a few. It makes no sense to debrief a loss, since it’s parts of a basically unchangeable so called genetic code.  In such a case, it makes sense to focus on secondary or tactical flaws, such as “why were we SO surprised when we failed”.

Flaw #5: Genetic, built-in frequently occurring flaws

One needs to factor in and try to mitigate genetic flaws in the lessons learned process. Sales and engineering blame one another; so will Finance and HR. Armies will blame government’s unclear goals, and government will claim that armies don’t use enough force. These patterns are trite & must be cleansed as much as possible, focusing on facts and not on stereotypes.

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Cultural Roots of Incompetence-A painful post

There are generic and shared reasons for incompetence that transcend cultural borders: lack of skills, corruption, nepotism being the most frequent forms of incompetence which are applicable across the board.

There are also culturally unique reasons for incompetence which impact certain cultures and not others. For example, excessive planning/rigidity stemming from a sense of control of destiny (USA) or excessive bureaucracy (France, we can invent a perfect system) or ancient tribalism (Rwanda).

In this post I want to point out a some of the underpinnings of incompetence unique to Israel (but not only Israel). This will hopefully help understand how Israel could have been so duped in the present war against Hamas.

1)      Lack of discipline

Lack of discipline stems from the idea that “systems” probably have holes embedded in them and a lack of discipline allows people to survive the horrors of obedience. Only “suckers” follow the system.

2)      Lack of enforcement

Enforcement is unfair. Everyone deserves a second chance, and a third, and maybe a fourth. This stems from dysfunctional compassion towards an individual and lack of respect for systems.

3)      Over-reliance on technology

As a high-tech nation, we inhale our own smoke, stocking up on lots of technology, full of bugs, but ahead of our times, when it works. When it does not, we have no more boots on the ground; we just throw more technology at the problem. This is the most severe strategic weakness in understanding the present shortcomings.

4)      Fast and dirty-and sloppy

Israelis are faster at developing and deploying technology than most of the other nations. The speed and innovation are naturally sloppy and “cleaned up” afterwards, sometimes too late.

5)      Too little discretion; too much talk

We talk too much on the phone-hack our mobile phones or just ride the train or bus and a world of secrets is exposed. The assumption is that “field security” is not needed as long as you remember your password.

This post may seem to be written with detachment. But it is written with pain because we are paying a huge price and what’s more, these cultural attributes are very hard to change.


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The new Tel Aviv Subway-and the mobile phone

This week I went to see a documentary film about the Samaritans at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque.

I live in one of the suburban towns north of the city; a train + subway ride takes me about 45 minutes door to door, as opposed to a 90 minute commute by car and probably, no parking anywhere to be found. So going to the film gave me an opportunity to ride the new subway.

The network is not easy to to navigate the pay-your-fare and the transfer-to-Israel-rail stations are really challenging.

The fare system allows the passenger to pay with any one of many apps, credit cards, loaded train/bus cards, cash and monthly subscription cards. There is a huge line of different machines where one can top up  payment cards and/or pay. Too many payment choices are available. Navigating this is complex and many people, even technologically competent people, are baffled.

In the stations where one can transfer to a train, the signs are incomplete. In Kiryat Aryeh, a major station, there no way to know which trains leave from Platform Two and many people go to Platform One and go the wrong way. I am one of those people.

To deal with this mess, the subway hired many “travel assistance” personnel, who are supposed to help the public. Generally they are “heads down”, playing with their smartphones or talking to one another. Questions are often greeted with “I don’t have a clue” or “don’t know” or an incomprehensible answers comes your way- spoken like the way Mumbles used to talk in Dick Tracey films.

And I ask myself, how is it that such a negative organization culture develop so quickly? There is so much to be proud in the new subway-why is it that service providers don’t give a shit. And yes, they are well paid.

My educated guess is that were they not allowed to keep their mobiles on their shift, they would want to interact with people.

But when faced with a choice between “whats-apping” their friends or working, they prefer the former. Perhaps phones should be confiscated at the work place-I guess not. I’m too told to be accurate.






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Organizational dialects

This post is directed at people who are bilingual, but may be of interest to “uni-linguals” as well.

People who speak more than one language know that it is common to go back and forth between languages. You don’t generally speak either or, but both, using words or sentences or expressions from both languages. (At times, this is funny. Many automobile spare parts are in the German language. Mechanics, Jews and Arabs, often throw in words from 3 languages when describing an issue at the garage).

On a recent trip to the UAE, I got around using the Metro, and observed people mixing between languages (like Hindi and Arabic; Arabic and Persian) like I do between Hebrew and English.

There are words that “belong” in one language, albeit they are translatable. A good example is the word “project”-which is SO English. Or enfant terrible in French, or halas in Arabic. Going back and forth between languages is natural. Speaking ONLY in one language at a time is rare.

Some words mean different things in the same language. “Check it” may mean “take a look” to English speaking Africans. “La” may add emphasis to Singaporean English speakers. “Don’t be late la.” 

Organizations are “multilingual” by nature. There are several languages spoken and /or words mean different things, depending on who is talking and who is being addressed.

Understanding the dialects by carefully dissecting the words/terms can provide a clear understanding of what’s going on.

A few examples will suffice. Strategy can mean “where we are going” to very senior management or “what they want today” to the troops.

“Working more efficiently” may mean better planning by understanding customer needs” or “working us into the ground by not aligning tasks to resources”.

“Diversity” may mean (and often does) mean meeting quotas and avoiding bad press, or less discrimination.

“Customer satisfaction” may be a score as compared to last month, or how do I keep the customer happy given that our product is not performing.

A “deadline” may be what what we will do, or what we say we will do until we fail, and then apologize. 

“Delegation” may mean “I am giving the responsibility to you” or, “my boss is setting me up to fail”.

“Corporate culture” may be seen as the way we strive to do things, or “corporate Kool-Aid”.

A word of advice-go beyond the words, and look at the way key words are used differently by different populations. 













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The appointed consultant

Unpleasant as it can be, OD consultants can be appointed by someone to help someone else who either does not see the need for help and/or has no say in the identity of the consultant.

I have been appointed by owners, and more often boards, to work with managers who resent the very act of suggesting that they need help. And I have formulated a few guidelines for such situations which I am sharing in this post.

1 Acknowledge that awkwardness of the situation. I often use a metaphor that “I’m the guy that needs to do root canal and you don’t even see the need to visit a dentist”. Discuss the awkwardness as an issue.

2 Allow the person with whom you have been asked to work to cease the consultation at the drop of a hat.

3 Agree that all updates that you will give the folks who commissioned your services will be transparent-that is, your assessment will be shared a priori with the person with whom you are working.

4 Spend time cementing the relationship, Trade favours, create a feeling of “safety” and stick to your word.

5 If you think that your client and the person who appointed you are a system problem, then work with both of them as a system, or resign.







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A skilled eye is very important in veterinary medicine because animals don’t speak. A skilled eye is important in OD because humans do speak…at times a lot of nonsense

A week ago, my dog George had a problem standing up; he did not want to walk. His appetite was voracious as always, and when we went to buy a roasted chicken, he jumped out of the car and walked right to the chicken-stand, but he was in pain and feeling “down-in-the-mouth”, his bones creaking like….my bones!

Since George is 14 years old, I was convinced that time was coming for him to “cash in his chips”; I took him to the vet expecting the worst.

Dr Yuval was in the lobby when I walked in. George was dragging himself behind me. Yuval says- “George has a backache; wait a week and it will improve”. No tests; no nothing. He observed. He did not ask me – and of course, George didn’t say a word. Lo and behold-he was right. George is getting better.

A skilled eye is very important in veterinary medicine because animals don’t speak. A skilled eye is important in OD because human’s do speak…at times they sprout  a lot of nonsense because of fear of reprisal, a tough job market, suspicion or in the case of senior managers, towing the party line.

A consultant would be wise to constantly observe, and not only listen to the spoken word. Not only at the beginning of a project. Rather, all the time.

Here are a few things that I have observed-and in brackets, what the spoken words were, when relevant.

  • Excessive gating procedures to speak to senior managers. (Rick provides useful input)
  • Lovely lobbies, and cramped quarters for customer support people (Customer service needs to be digitalized)
  • Executive parking places (our senior staff come early and work like dogs)
  • People playing solitaire on their pc’s (we have a very tough workload)
  • People smiling at each other at meetings
  • Dirty toilets (we are interesting in improving wellbeing)
  • Everyone texting, all the time (we have a problem of communication)
  • Inappropriate clothing (clients treated rudely)
  • Differential size of office space (favouring the Finance Dept)
  • Similar ethnic background of FSU+ family names in one department (the electricians are not transparent)

Always pay attention to the contrast between what you see and what you hear.

I thought George was dying. George kept his mouth shut. Yuval saw it all.

“Not a word was spoken. The Churchbells were all broken.” (Don McLean, American Pie.) 

+FSU Former Soviet Union

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Five Reasons to Abolish Periodic Feedback/Evaluation sessions with Employees

  • In some professions, the job market is so bad that replacing someone can take more than a year. So why risk giving a mediocre employee feedback and risk his/her leaving the organization?
  • Generally, managers write something in their evaluation, verbally express something else, and think something entirely different. E.g.- Naomi, I appreciate the effort you made to improve your writing skills. (said). Naomi gets a 5/5 on communication skills because this will get her a bonus (written). “Naomi is 65 years old, and cannot communicate in English. This won’t change (thoughts).”
  • Feedback sessions promote so much anxiety that learning is very rare and playing defense is very common.
  • Feedback/Evaluation sessions are basically seen as “feeding the HR beast”. And as such, they are often fudged.
  • There is no rational to evaluate performance all at once. It is simply too much information to receive. Learning requires a far different context to be effective.

What should replace feedback sessions?

  • Mediocre employees are a great asset in many areas. Not everyone needs to improve. That awareness could mitigate the need to shove feedback down every employee’s throat. Leave well enough alone.
  • Managers and their staff should have ongoing dialogue about the desired versus actual level of performance on any given task, or set of tasks.
  • When employees ask for some feedback, it is legitimate to give them what they are asking for.
  • Assessing training needs is a good placement for some feedback, because it is a positive and concrete step to better performance in some areas.
  • They need not be replaced, just abolished.
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Case studies for the OD consultant practicing in global complexity

The launch of GB 1.00 was bumpy. The client system crashed, GB 1.00 had to be reinstalled 3 times and $300,000 revenue was lost due to downtime. Even after the fix, GB 1 crashes twice a week causing financial damage. Nevertheless, the GB 1 increases the “speed of service” by 49% a week.

The Key Account Manager of the client went to his CEO and complained that the account could be lost “unless we show a road map of corrective action and that means that all resources need to be funneled into fixing this problem now“. This is of course is impossible because there are 125 similar projects going on simultaneously.

Au urgent meeting was convened, led by Dr Fred Renaud, the US based Senior  Vice President of R&D, and attended by the CEO, the account manager, and the entire development team.

Humi, a developer from Israel paid no heed to the “moaning” of the Key Account Manager. “These product releases take time to stabilize let’s roll up our sleeves and start working. I’ll fly to the client site tonight.”

Dr Fred said that “an overall high level comprehensive plan” is needed- “and only then, you can fly wherever you want, Humi”.

Jai from Thailand smiled during the entire meeting-her team had developed a major component and she was very embarrassed. “What are you laughing at, Jai? What is so God damn funny? (Fred hates “the Orient”, it is too hot and I don’t get their obtuse communication style”, he complained.)

Hans, the German PMO (project management)  wanted “detail before we “mof” on”. And he stared delving into detail which drove the other team members to distraction.

After an hour, the meeting broke up.

The CEO want to hire a consultant to “get all our ducks in one line”.


  1. What are your basic assumptions that could hinder your consultative apporach to being effective in such a situation?
  2. What is the role of the client in your planned intervention?
  3. How will get people’s trust?
  4. Define the end state you want to reach and how to get there.
  5. What is your role?



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Weird things that go on in organizations are not that weird if you put aside your naïve assumptions

I love middle eastern history. Like OD, sometimes it can be counterintuitive. And full of surprises.

For years, I have taken courses on Middle Eastern History and Politics at Tel Aviv University’s Continuing Education Department with various professors.

Recently I sat in on a series of lectures explaining why after having had his entire air force decimated in 1967, Egypt’s President Nasser was even more adored by his people. The masses refused to let him resign despite the fact that the  air force was ruined, his army humiliated and the economy (which was never much to begin with), devastated. 

There are of course may other events that occur which are very difficult to explain, but middle east history makes scholars of logic into imbiciles.

In class, we  were provided nevertheless  with a very clear explanation as to why this happened after the 1967 defeat. All the explanations of course  defy western logic, but wearing a different set of lenses, it makes a lot of sense, if you look in the right places.

Now in organizations, lots of things happen that seem illogical. However if you look under the tables, under the sheets, and between the lines, it all makes sense. Here are 3 simple examples.

  • Tuti is a family run fashion store with 12 branches. One of the branches is very poorly run; it loses money and is overstaffed. Management does nothing.

Why? All incompetent family members are sent to this branch. It is the family garbage can. Many expenses and costs written off more readily at the failed branch.

  • A company makes a bid against 3 competitors. Their product is cheaper, better and more resilient. They don’t even get a chance to bid in the final four.

Why? Someone in the client base is “on the take” from a competitor.

  • The food and beverage manager has caused 2 chefs to quit. Reviews of the menu are critical and revenue is way down. There have been several fist fights between servers and bellboys. The food and beverage manager is immune to any criticism.

Why? An affair with the regional manager of the hotel chain.

These examples may seem ridiculous.

Is it ridiculous that Nasser was supported by his people after his military defeat because he had “brought pride and honour (sharf) upon his nation” by daring to fight (albeit lose)?

Common sense is not that common, and logic is logic only if the observer is logical. In organizations, there is a deep layer hidden from the naive human eye that escapes unless we look closely and with a huge dose of cynicism.

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