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It’s gotta be the chutzpah

Marketplace Staff May 16, 2008

It’s gotta be the chutzpah

Marketplace Staff May 16, 2008


Bob Moon: President Bush wrapped up his visit to Israel today. He was there to celebrate the state of Israel’s 60th birthday. Also there to mark the occasion was a Jerusalem conference of Jewish innovators. Among them: Nobel laureates, world-class artists and scientists, and the founders of Google and Yahoo! Which begs the question: Why are there so many of them? Reporter Daniel Estrin has been looking for some answers in Jerusalem.

Daniel Estrin: Israel is the 100th smallest country in the world, and it’s under constant threat from its neighbors. But it bears an impressive resume. It has the largest number of engineers, scientists and Ph.D’s per capita in the world. It trades more stocks on NASDAQ than any other country besides Canada and the U.S. Instant messaging was invented here. So was the USB memory flash card.

So all of this begs for an explanation. I asked the question to Nadav Kidron, the CEO of Oramed, a company introducing a new way of delivering insulin through a pill.

Estrin: What’s the secret? Why are Israelis so successful at all of these breakthroughs?

Nadav Kidron: Natural resources, we do not have. With our neighbors, to do business right now, it’s going to take some time, and only in the future. So I think the only resource we have is really to use the brain power.

Baroness Susan Greenfield is a member of the British House of Lords, and a scientist. She has another theory.

Susan Greenfield: I think in Jewish culture, there is a respect for education, which creates the right environment for the human brain to flourish and for individuality to really push itself to its limits.

Fred Worms, a British philanthropist, says it’s in the genes.

Fred Worms: We were under continuous persecution. You had to make way extra efforts to sustain yourself — DNA conditioning. Not over two or three generations, but over 2,000 or 3,000 years.

Israel is largely made up of immigrants — many well-educated professionals who left because of hardship in the former Soviet Union.

A history of persecution, poor relations with the neighbors, doesn’t sound like the makings of success. But psychologist and entrepreneur Ofer Grosbard says all this adversity forces innovation.

Ofer Grosbard: If everything falls in place, and I am not worried about the future, I have less motivation. I’ll have less initiative.

Israeli President Shimon Peres has his own take on Israeli business smarts. He says Israel’s innovation can be traced to one word: “chutzpah,” or audacity.

In Jerusalem, I’m Daniel Estrin for Marketplace.

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