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.


Dear subscribers, In order to clean up the spam, all blog subscriptions were deleted and a new subscription system installed. Please re register and sorry for the trouble.


 10,998 total views

Share Button

Mike thinks De-Ming lacks managerial maturity

“As the results for Q3 pour in and looking in Q4’s revenue projection, it is clear that a reduction is force is immanent. Please prepare a list of the bottom quartile”, wrote  EVP HR Gloria Lemieux to all senior managers-by text message!

Mike Shapiro, Head of Deployment for Europe and Asia Pac, called all his area presidents and conveyed the grisly message. Deming Li (Head of China, Taiwan and Korea) sent Mike an email, cc’ing all his direct reports, that corporate HR should take care of employees and not lend a hand to cutting jobs from overworked engineers which will result in less people doing more work.

Mike was livid when he read De-Ming’s email; two weeks later in a meeting in Singapore, Mike asked Deming for the list of names, and De-Ming stormed out of the meeting and flew back to Shanghai.

However, in parallel, Deming’s HR clerk, Sally Ngai-Lam Xu, was providing Gloria with all the data and names that were needed.

Mike wanted to remove  De-Ming for “immaturity” and a consultant was brought into the picture. Deming explained to Allon that the Reduction of Force is completely justified but De-Ming needed to show his people that he was “protecting them”.

Allon sat with Mike and explained the role of the leader in different cultures.

Mike (from Billings, Oregon) told Allon: “Listen, this is not an issue of anthropology; it is a question of managerial maturity.”

Share Button