How mission-oriented innovation can create the conditions for a better Israel to emerge
When speaking about politics in Israel post-October 7, I’ve heard one phrase more than any other: we can’t go back to how things were before the war. “We can’t keep playing over the same movie,” said a friend over lunch. “Israel won’t survive if we go into another extended period of intense street protests,” worried another active in the democracy movement. “We were tearing ourselves apart…we need to remain united,” exclaimed a third who previously supported the government.
Israelis generally agree that the cycle that led to the historical tragedy of 2023 must be broken. The internal hate, the vulnerability to external attack, and the breakdown of good governance were caused by decades of Israel being divided and conquered. By decades of institutional corruption. Although we agree our State is broken, we can’t agree on how to fix it. There is no shared vision for a prosperous, resilient, inclusive Israel to counter the messianic, libertarian vision of the hard-right.
Worse, even if such a vision would arise, we do not trust our political leadership to advance the vision without corrupting it. Nor do we trust our public institutions to translate such a vision into reality. Which is why those of us who want a prosperous, resilient, inclusive Israel need to focus on system-building as opposed to power-shifting. We need to create new processes to build trust among Israel’s diverse cultural and geographical communities. Learning from the wave of volunteerism that united Israel to fill the vacuum left by the lack of governance after the attacks, we need to institutionalize opportunities to align civil society around common purpose in order to spark political imagination as to the shape and role of the government we need.
It was to address moments of uncertainty such as these that Henry Mintzberg developed the concept of Emergent Strategy: strategy defined by its aims, principles, and the common purpose of empowered collaborators to achieve outcomes beneficial to all. As opposed to the prescriptive strategy we expect from political parties and political movements – strategy based on clear goals and declarative statements – organizations and movements employing an emergent strategy start by stating their principles and asking value-oriented questions: how do we ensure every child is raised without fear? How can we ensure the resilience of our border communities? How can Israelis feel united as one nation while freeing communities from identity coercion? Common action is catalyzed in answer to the question for the benefit of all group or company members.
Building a Blueprint for Israel in this age of uncertainty requires we start from questions and not from answers. No white paper, symposia, lobbying effort, or street protests will fill the gap left by the abject failure of our government to prepare for, or respond to, the October 7 massacre and its aftermath. No single new political party or improved political platform will convince Israelis we won’t be dragged into the same political wrangling and institutionalized corruption that destroyed our trust in public institutions. Instead, we need to build broad coalitions to coordinate people facing common questions, and mobilize the resulting communities using thoughtful processes to address the challenges that stand in the way of building the future they would like to inhabit.
The good news is that we did this already. The Pioneering (‘Halutz’) movement that laid the foundations for the State followed an emergent strategy. Back then, civil society across the world organized into new institutions to finance and train groups of pioneers who set out to build the foundations for independent life in the Land of Israel. This system was founded on a general agreement on core principles but differed on almost everything else. The pioneers themselves came from a mixed multitude of ideologies and geographies, yet their collaboration created the conditions for the State of Israel to emerge.
If we are to revive this practice – what in academic and policy circles is now called Mission-Oriented Innovation – we would:
- Determine the principles we want to see enshrined in our future state, and use them to identify the challenges we face.
- Build a coalition of institutions and individuals most affected by these challenges to join together to generate potential ways to overcome them.
- Run experiments to test these ideas, translating successful test subjects into initiatives to operationalize interventions.
- Amplify emergent solutions to spread their benefit, and scale the organization or initiative able to offer it, or integrate the approach into existing institutions.
For example, one challenge we need to face is the way our border communities have been relegated to periphery status as opposed to recognized as the heartland of Israel. This has severely harmed their resilience. Many living in those communities in the South and the North are grateful for the support they received following the horrific destruction of Oct 7, but rightfully ask where Israel was over the past decade when they demanded more investment in infrastructure to safeguard their citizens.
Using mission-oriented innovation can support residents of the South and North to build themselves a new political reality. We would start by identifying a single challenge to start with, perhaps to answer the question as to how border-adjacent industries can become economic engines the government would have to take more seriously. We would then build a coalition reflecting the diversity of communities and companies who have clear stakes in the successful completion of that challenge. The coalition would identify missions needing the most attention – such as lack of skilled labor – and engage in an open innovation process to generate ideas new to the region. Ideas who pass the coalition’s tests would evolve into initiatives the coalition would adapt or invest in for the benefit of the communities and the benefit of Israel as a whole. The end of one mission cycle sparks a new one, as a now empowered community shifts its sights to new challenges and new opportunities for collaboration.
Despite the local nature of such an effort, Israel as a whole will benefit both from the increased resilience and from the mobilization of a political community engaged in public purpose-driven collaboration for a better future. It will amplify the narrative that Israelis deserve more from their public sector. By institutionalizing the process, we can create perennial structures to raise expectations from our public institutions. It can lay the foundations for a new vision and raise up the people who can translate that vision into our shared reality.
The events of 2023 and the degeneration that led to it indicates we cannot depend on the public sector to get us out of this mess. Civil society must act as the catalyst to build a better future. We need to empower teams of subject matter experts with the humility to build coalitions, and the patience to know our problems will not be solved by a silver bullet. We need to engage in the foundational work to enable a new Israel to emerge. We need to be guided by our principles, and finish the mission to build a State of Israel our pioneering grandparents would have been proud of.
How can we put into practice the Mission-Oriented Innovation approach? Shifting a system from one equilibrium (or ‘normal’) to a new normal is extremely difficult, but recent history shows it to be entirely possible. We moved from a world defined by the horse and buggy – where politics, economics, and social relations were tightly defined by the mode of travel and communication – to a world defined by instantaneous communications and near flawless international shipping. Guiding the movement from one system to another are a series of process, product, and service innovations that serve the interests of the people backing them.
If we want to ensure the emerging system reflects our values, we need to (1) define our core principles, (2) apply them to challenges through missions that organize coalitions around our principles, and (3) spread and scale those solutions to shift the current system’s response. Practically, this means the following:
- Establish a Strategic Alignment team to determine the set of principles that create the guidelines for the new system, and prioritize challenges commonly agreed upon to be pivotal and pressing.
- Task Mission Executive teams to build cross-sectoral coalitions whose members have a vested interest in translating core principles into new institutions and initiatives. Using a structured methodology for solution generation and validation, these Mission Executive teams work with coalition members to identify opportunities to significantly address each challenge in a way that reflects core principles. The Mission Executive does so by coordinating a well defined process to discover new approaches and engage in experimentation for testing and validating of resulting initiatives.
- Engage an Amplification team to spread and scale validated initiatives across the system, first by integrating into coalition-member operations, followed by expansion across the system. Each success is used as an opportunity to expand public imagination about the new system being built and build public acceptance of the emerging principle-imbued system dynamics.
Once an existing system shifts, a new equilibrium is established when the resulting system meets the needs of the people who are able to capture and retain power during the transition. By building coalitions around a set of values and principles we can work to ensure the equilibrium reflects those aims, and not the private interests of existing stakeholders. By managing and guiding the catalyzation of the system’s shift we become the beneficiaries of change as opposed to the ones being changed.