Is there a lack of shame about failing in Israeli organizations?

Case One

Mr A drove the company he managed into a deep hole. His firm is plagued by debt, their market reputation is in the pits and in threat of violent acquisition. “A” steps down “to spend time with his family”; 6 months later, he is at a venture capital firm as a managing partner.

Case Two

As the market share of “Great” plunged and new products failed to catch on, Mr Y cut costs, chopped down the work force and managed the sinking ship until he landed another job at Israel4u, an up and coming start up that just raised 20 million dollars.

These scenarios are not strange exceptions in the Israel market, which is very tolerant of failure. For the outsider, it appears that one can murder ones parents yet ask for clemency because you are an orphan. And indeed it often looks like that.

Here are the main reasons that this happens.

  1. There is a small pool of people from whom talent is drawn, and they know one another. Their relationships stem back to army days or school days, and so each failure has a protective layer, padded by relationship.
  2. In a nation which has a proclivity for taking risks, failure is tolerated.
  3. Unlike Americans who expect leaders to be flawless, impeccable, dedicated husbands, fathers/mother, who do not screw around on the side, Israelis see managers as highly flawed. Most Israelis see themselves as people who know better than the guy in charge. And they get new jobs because “the system is rigged”.
  4. Responsibility is seen as held by a group, so “a system failure” or a מחדל (shortcoming) often takes the place of “one neck one noose”.
  5. Most of the economic news in Israel is biased populism so senior managers are often protected by thick layers of spokespeople and lazy journalists.

And yes, if you are looking for personality accountability, you will need to look hard to find it.  What you will find are resilient managers who may jump back from failure, as well as a thick level of mediocrity  that moved up the ladder because they have the right friends and/or were reasonably performing officers in the armed forces.

Footnote

The younger generation of Israeli entrepreneurs and “startupistim” (start up founders) also often share a military background and close knit relationships with the VC community, where the tolerance for failure is huge.

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2 thoughts on “Is there a lack of shame about failing in Israeli organizations?

  1. Very cool, Allon. . . Looks like your Israeli systems have come down on an ‘pole’ of a polarity that most of us have not been able to do often enough.
    We Americans TALK a lot about ‘the learning organization’ and the need to ‘fail fast’ but most of my clients are still secretly committed to being ‘right fast’. . .
    What tendencies or capabilities do you see in American organizations that have some redemptive qualities?
    Seriously. . .

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