People ask me all the time: “What makes Israel such a cradle of innovation?” or “Why are Israelis constantly busy with new initiatives?”
I have given these questions a lot of thought and quite frankly, I think it starts from the cradle.
Granted, I’m an Israeli mother, so perhaps I am a bit biased, but I think the answer to why Israel is such a laboratory of innovation and entrepreneurship begins with the way modern Israelis raise their children.
From the moment they can raise their heads, we encourage our sons and daughters to explore the world around them, freely and without fear or constraint — instincts that are not always easy for mothers to encourage. We do this by not saying “no” or letting our worry that they may fall or hurt themselves control our actions.
I realized when I had my first son, Yonatan — well actually, before I had him — that worrying and passing that worry and fear to my son was a choice that I had to make. It was a hard choice, because it wasn’t what I was naturally conditioned to do, but in Israel I had many moms just like me who chose not to worry too much, knowing that worrying never made anything better, but could instill fear and anxiety.
The purpose I had as an Israeli mom wasn’t limited to keeping my son safe or teaching him what I knew. It was greater. My purpose was, and still is, to give him real independence.
Real independence means that I know how to get out of his way, let him fall, let him go exploring where it’s not safe and help him, when he is ready, to process this information and make meaning of it for himself. This is not conditional independence as it is not limited based on what I am comfortable with or only what is 100% safe. It’s absolute and it is hard.
So this year on Israeli Independence Day when my youngest son, Yarden, was running around the streets and being super silly, disappearing multiple times, I reminded myself that he also has unconditional independence and that the most powerful thing I can give him is the freedom to explore without pointless limits.
Independence is at the root of being an explorer, an entrepreneur and an Israeli child. This freedom extends and grows as our kids age.
Preschools provide children the opportunities to play and create with a pile of random materials, such as paper cups and plastic containers. On the holiday of Lag Ba’omer, we give our children the chance to build bonfires, disregarding the usual adage “never play with fire.”
We are there, supervising and ensuring their safety. We do not limit their creativity, but allow them to fully express themselves within a controlled (adult) environment. We do so from a distance, allowing them to take risks and learn from their mistakes.
We are a much less risk-averse society, and this willingness to make mistakes gives way to more resilient children and eventually, amazing inventions.
Our children in Israel are much like the biblical “children” who wandered in the desert for 40 years. They learn to take responsibility for their own destiny. They celebrate their freedom becoming early entrepreneurs, creating a new life and society. On their journey, they find a sense of ownership and fearlessness.
Warren Buffet once said: “If you’re going to the Middle East to look for oil, you can skip Israel. If you’re looking for brains, look no further. Israel has shown that it has a disproportionate amount of brains and energy.”
Anyone who has spent time in Israel can sense it is more than just brainpower. People in Israel live for the moment. We are full of energy and grow up in an organized chaos. We encourage our children to be creative and imaginative; to follow their dreams; to build; to think and be independent.
Would love to hear your independent thoughts!
Inbal Arieli was a lieutenant in the elite IDF intelligence 8200 unit and later took leading roles in the Israeli high-tech sector. She is a senior advisor to Start-Up Nation Central and is currently co-CEO of Synthesis. Featured as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Israeli High-Tech, Inbal is working on an exploration of how Israeli culture breeds entrepreneurs from a young age. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.