In the TV series “Into the West,” directed by Steven Spielberg, about
the development of the western US, it showed the folly of a people
depending on one resource. In the case of the Indians (specifically the
plains Indians) that was the buffalo, or in the Lakota language “Katanka.”
They derived everything from the buffalo including housing (tents), clothing,
and food. And this dependence resulted mainly from the time the horse was
introduced into north America by the Spaniards around 1600 until ca. 1890,
by which time the buffalo were nearly extinct. It is often thought that it
was persecution by the white man or the toll of his diseases that wiped out
the American Indians, but actually the destruction of the buffalo was by far
the most significant factor.
A similar situation occurred in Cuba that was almost entirely dependent
on the cultivation of tobacco, or certain Caribbean islands that depended
entirely on sugar cane. The moral of this story is don’t become dependent
on one primary resource.
Most advanced societies are well adapted to deal with this problem,
having many sources of resources to ensure they don’t get caught in this
particular bind. When Israel was developing, it was one of the cornerstones
of early Zionist ideology that they had to return to work the land. While
this little piece of dogma was important, the fact that it allowed the Jews
to grow enough food to feed themselves and the immigrants was the most
crucial fact in the success of the nascent state.
Now Israel has a blossoming technology sector, with many electronic and
internet companies and many start-ups in the area of biomedical research and
drugs. By comparison with some of the most advanced technical societies,
Japan, the UK, the EU, Israel is far ahead in the development of such high
tech companies. And the key to this is “risk.” The fact is that
risk-avoidance is part of the national character in several of these
countries, except for the US and Israel. Maybe some of these Israeli
start-ups are taking too much risk, some will lose their money, since only
ca. 10% of the companies last 5 years and few ever make it to profitability.
Yet, this is the way to build a modern technology-based society.
Last night I had dinner in Tel Aviv with an American based in the UK who
advises start-up companies on how to run their businesses. After finding
opportunities in the UK and Ireland, he is going to move to Herzliya, Israel
and open an office here. He is already involved with several small
companies here and finds Israel an excellent place for this kind of
business. So remember Katanka, and take risk!


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