In her new book, Chutzpah: Why Israel is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HarperCollins), entrepreneur extraordinaire Inbal Arieli offers a penetrating analysis of how Israeli culture, especially mandatory military service, informs the dynamics of business. She talks to Lilith Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about where she’s been and what lessons she’s learned along the way.
Yona Zeldis McDonough: How has your experience in the Israeli Defense Force Intelligence unit influenced your work in the Israeli tech sector?
Inbal Arieli: I had the privilege to be selected, at the age of 17+, to serve in the Intelligence 8200 unit, the Israeli equivalent of the N.S.A. Through the unique screening process this unit applies, I learned that what I already know is less important than what I could potentially learn. This approach, of focusing on talent potential, versus existing knowhow or experience, still influences the way I assess team members and candidates in the ventures I lead in the tech sector.
During my military service, I was part of a team of young people who came from different backgrounds, applied different approaches to problem solving and addressed challenges in various ways. This taught me that cross-pollination of ideas, and diversity, are extremely valuable for any team.
At the age of 19, I was appointed as team leader. I was the commander of a team of 15 soldiers, some older than I, definitely more experienced and knowledgeable. I then learned that leadership traits are much more critical than formal hierarchy. My team members, colleagues and commanders at 8200 are still a substantial portion of my professional network to date, more than two decades after finalizing my military service.
As a team, we faced intel challenges which seemed at first impossible to achieve. But given their importance and consequences for the security of Israel, we just had to overcome them. In 8200 I learned that there is no such thing as impossible.
All of these lessons I experienced and learned at 8200, and many more, have influenced my professional career. For me, as someone who is interested in technology, the Israeli tech sector was a natural choice, as it was for many friends from the unit. However, these lessons are applicable to any sector.