When I meet someone new, very often the following conversation occurs:
- So, what you do for a living?
- I’m an entrepreneur.
- Cool. What kind of business you have?
- A few. Mostly online gaming, now I started a new company in the sharing economy field.
- Cool. Where have you studied?
- Milano Jewish School, George Washing-(interruption)
- Oh, now I get it. You are Jewish. Jewish people have entrepreneurship in their blood.
Of course I smile. Something like this:
Stating that if you are Jewish you will be a successful entrepreneur is racist. As racist as saying that if you are black you will be a good runner.
But at the same time behind some exaggerated statement there are sometimes few truths. In fact, Israel, also called the Startup Nation, has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than Europe, Japan, Korea, India and China combined. Or more than 22% of Nobel prizes were awarded to Jews. And over the last seven Olympic men’s 100-meter races, all 56 finalists have been of West African descent.
So, I wanted to give an answer to myself if the Torah, the centerpiece of the Jewish religion, can be the reason for such popular opinion about Jews. Here is a qualitative list that might be able to answer my dilemma.
I) 613 mitzvot
There are 613 commandments that every Jew should apply. 248 do’s, and 365 don’ts. Nowadays the Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed, so only 369 mitzvot are still operative. Including not eating pork.
People always ask me: “So you never ate pork in your whole life?” I answer: “No, not consciously, except one time that was before my Bar Mizwa, so it actually doesn’t count”.
This is strictly connected to entrepreneurship. People think that while being an entrepreneur you can do pretty much whatever you want. Well, it’s the opposite. A successful entrepreneur is disciplined. Bill Aulet, the MIT entrepreneurship guru, wrote a whole book on that: Disciplined Entrepreneurship.
II) Mehadrin min Hameadrin
Jews are not happy to just fulfill the Torah commandments. The rules derived from the Torah are discussed in 6300 pages of the Talmud. This results in other thousands of rules to respect. One of the main reason behind a lot of discussions is the Mehadrin min Hameadrin concept. Mehadrin min Hameadrin means the embellishment of the embellishment. A lot of the discussion tries to understand what is the best way to perform a commandment. For instance: what is the best oil to use to light the Chanukah Candle? Or who should light the Chanukah Candle?
Again we can find the same concept in entrepreneurship. Continuous optimization is today a founding pillar of every successful venture. Read Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz if you don’t believe me.
III) Minimum fulfillment
The opposite concept to the Mehadrin min Hameadrin that is recurring throughout all the Jewish culture is the so-called Minimum fulfillment: what minimum actions should you perform to fulfill the commandment? For instance if you are in Auschwitz, how can you fulfill the Chanukah commandments if you just have one candle for 8 days?
An important entrepreneurship concept is the MVP, minimum viable product. Reaching the MVP is not simple. Read Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez. And of course, an MVP is in continuous improvement. (see II)
One day a friend of mine who is not Jewish was invited to a Shabbat dinner. She was so happy to see all that energy, relaxation and joy that she stated: “It’s like having Christmas every week!”. Well, yes, Shabbat feels that way, but much more than that.
Shabbath is the Jews rest day. And by rest day means that it’s actually forbidden to work. Not only that, but you should avoid talk about money or business matters. You are commanded to Enjoy the Shabbat (oneg Shabbat): Engaging in pleasurable activities such as eating, singing, spending time with the family and marital relations.
Having a relaxing day is crucial to be recharged for the coming week. Perry Yeatman is just an example of a successful CEO that needs hours of doing “nothing” to be ready for the coming week.
A misconception about Jews is that they are greedy. Parnassah is translated livelihood. To understand more deeply what Jews means by that I will quote a piece of the Parnassah prayer.
As you can see it is asked to G-d just to provide a livelihood to your family with ease and not with pain, with honor and not with disgrace.
Many entrepreneurs just want to become the next unicorn and think so big and so long term that are not even able to generate enough earnings to provide to themselves and to their family. They work day and night (see IV) in order to show to potential investors that their business can expand to be a bigger venture. So they are just slaves to the money and then they die.
VI) Vedibarta Bam
Another central concept in Judaism in the constant learning. Every morning and every evening Jews recite the Shemà. A part of it goes like this:
And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
Every Jew should keep studying the Torah. The Torah is open to everybody and it is so complex that it is impossible in a lifetime to study it all. Remind that just the Talmud is just 6300 pages. And these do not include the commentary on the Talmud, that is even bigger.
In the entrepreneurial process, constant learning is a must to be competitive in the long term in the current market environment. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries explains the continuous learning activity that a business should perform to continue to grow.
Do you know what is the first commandment in the Torah? You might know the following: “I am the Lord your G-d”. Well, it actually goes like this:
I am the Lord your G-d, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
The question here is: Why G-d at the time of his declaration of existence had to specify such a small thing compared to the creation of the World? The answer is that in Judaism the relationship between man and G-d should be personal. Every man should have a personal relationship with G-d. So, the creation of the world is something that way to far from us, but the liberation from slavery is something concrete. At the same time, with the Sephirot (emanations) G-d with is everywhere.
This two visions of G-d are crucial in entrepreneurship. On one side, the fact that everyone can have a personal relationship with G-d makes everyone think that if they behave in a good way they will be successful. Because G-d sees them every day and decides the future. Here comes the entrepreneurial optimism. For example in a study with life insurance agents, Seligman found that the most optimistic salespeople sold 88 percent more than the most pessimistic ones.
On the other side, the fact that G-d is everywhere makes the Jews think that no matter what, you are never in total control. You are part of a bigger plan. Here comes the uncertainty regarding entrepreneurship. And in fact, if you are an entrepreneur you have to learn to accept and embrace uncertainty.
The 7 points I have just exposed are not even the tip of the iceberg of the infinite teachings the Torah can give to every entrepreneur. But I’d like to summarize you all the Torah, as Hillel did:
What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this — go and study it!