Simon Vangelder
Simon Vangelder
Be heard despite the herd

Myths and Power Plays: Part Two – Beware of ‘Lobbus’ Thinking

Photo courtesy of balancecareers.com

If you read my previous blog, the more observant among you may have noticed my promise to write a follow-up. Apologies for my tardiness – but here it is.

To re-cap: my contention is that Israeli business culture has more than its fair share of people who are straight-talking, no-nonsense, I-know-best, credentials-obsessed, It-can’t be- true-if-it’s-not-rubber-stamped, Don’t-threaten- my-ego-cos-it might-get cramp, (I know this sounds a bit like a rap song, but bear with me), My-time-is-precious and-my-family-is-too, So-don’t- bother- me- unless- you’re- part- of -my -crew, Power-and-position-have-no-intermission, I’m-no-freier-so-there’s-no-way-I’ll-listen.

(*) Freier” is Yiddish for sucker and no Israeli wants to be seen as one.

On the subject of listening, I recently heard a fascinating interview between Sam Harris and the cultural psychologist, Michele Gelfand about her book, Rule Makers, Rule Breakers How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World. She gives intriguing insights into the differences between tight and loose cultures and how societies negotiate the trade-offs between order and freedom, conservatism and liberalism, permissiveness and small-mindedness, high regulation vs low regulation, etc.

She cites Israel as a place where, as a nation under constant threat, you would expect a tightly controlled society. Gelfand was surprised at the extent of Israel’s general liberality and openness. Although (and this is significant) she does qualify this finding with the observation that these spectrums are ‘domain-specific’. Gelfand noted that in some contexts Israel feels the need to exert control and enforce draconian regulations so that it can compensate for domains in which loose and progressive behaviors have been normalized. One example: Israelis are famously entrepreneurial and resourceful when going after their business goals; bending the rules is tacitly approved of by society. In response, the government have introduced cunning (and no doubt much-needed) counter measures, such as (and this is a minor but instructive illustration) fussy and pedantic regulations for invoicing.

 “Authorize This”

In the UK, businesses can design an invoice anyway they want; the information required is prescribed, but the format isn’t. It’s possible to begin the invoice sequencing with number 073, for example. Not so in easy-going Israel. Here there is a rigid template to adhere to. Invoices must be sequenced from ‘1’ onwards and the system requires a strict separation of ‘Original’ and ‘Copy’. If you mistakenly print an incorrect ‘Original’ invoice – and wish to redo it – the government approved software insists that you firstly must issue a credit note – before finally allowing you to print a corrected invoice. It’s the citizen’s liberal yin to the government’s controlling yang.

The ‘Lobbus’ Principle

I’ll now weave in a principle I believe is a factor that helps to perpetuate the widely spread myths about Israel’s ‘liberal’ work and business culture. I’ve named it: the Lobbus Principle. For those of you who are unaware of what a Lobbus is, here is a useful definition:

  • a young mischievous person with a lot of chutzpah
  • a rascal, mischievous or cheeky child (usually a boy)
  • of Polish/Yiddish origin used mainly by UK Jews

The principle relates to a means of disguising, overlooking or tolerating the reality of undesirable behaviour (even if this mitigation is often done unconsciously). Thus, a Lobbus in the UK looks something like this: ‘He may smoke a bit of weed, and is cheeky to his teachers, and skips school a lot and was once caught avoiding his bus fare and might even be responsible for an unwanted teenage pregnancy – but he’s basically a good kid’. He’s the worst the Jewish community can produce (unlike the Gentile version, who is an outright violent thug). The framing soothes and reassures (it’s almost a term of endearment).  Indeed, you might make a case that a Lobbus is merely someone who takes Chutzpa to another level.

The point is not that Israelis use Chutzpa in their business activities (although they famously do). No – the point is that cultural commentators and the Jewish establishment lean naturally towards painting Israel in the best possible light. If Israel’s Hi-Tech success is due to productive curiosity and a willingness to take risks – surely this virtue must, by implication, be present in the rest of Israel’s work culture? If the Israeli army is non-hierarchical and reserve soldiers famously argue with their senior officers – then surely this liberality must extend to all aspects of work-life in Israel?

This, I believe is lazy, self-congratulatory thinking.

So, let’s turn Lobbus into a verb. ’I wrote an article about Israel’s work culture and I ‘lobussed’ it a bit to make you and me feel better’.

To ‘Lobbus’ a story or Reflect the Truth

For each presented scenario below I have provided two outcomes: A ‘Lobussed’ version and What Actually Happened.

Scenario A

You are applying to be accepted by a government supported agency that supplies independent experts to small businesses. You list your work experience and how this is relevant to the profession in question. You are required to be interviewed to assess your suitability for the job.

The Lobbused Version (what any ‘Lobbusite’ would assume or would like to believe): The interviewer engages fully with the candidate. He displays curiosity and asks intelligent, probing questions. The interaction is free-flowing and the nuances of the candidate’s skills are adeptly teased out.

What Actually Happenned: The interviewer is hunched over a computer for over an hour filling in an endless, Byzantine form while barely disguising his boredom and gormlessness. He shoe-horns the candidate’s answers into pre- determined categories.

THE SAME SCENARIO, A WEEK LATER…..

The Lobbused Version: The candidate is congratulated on being accepted

 What Actually HappenedThe candidate receives an irate phone call from the ‘interviewer’, who demands to know how the candidate can have the effrontery to claim experience in a wide variety of work environments without providing accompanying documentation and cast-iron proof of every single claim laid out in the form. Said proof should be dispatched forthwith. The candidate eventually gets accepted/accredited following a month-long project in which dozens of former work colleagues in the UK are badgered by an increasingly desperate former employee for copies of job offers written during the Thatcher era.

Scenario B

A language school has been chosen by an Israeli company in Tel Aviv to teach business English. As part of the preparation process, all students are given a face-to-face English level test so that they can be placed in the appropriate class. The assessments are due to take place at the client’s head office. The teacher is unable to find a parking place and is therefore late.

The Lobbused Version: The company’s training manager is informed of the delay and reassures the teacher that it is “no big deal”

What Actually Happened: The training manager immediately phones the teacher’s boss demanding to know how this could happen and employs a manner and tone that leaves no doubt that their nascent relationship is on very thin ice.

Scenario C

The same language school sends a teacher to begin lessons at Hadassah Hospital. A full address has been provided to the teacher by one of the language school’s esteemed but sloppy employees – but ‘Hadassah Ein Karem’ is mysteriously omitted. The named street corresponds to a location on Mount Scopus -even though the class is being held in Ein Karem. The teacher arrives half an hour early and tries to match the address with several buildings affiliated with Hadassah located on the street address. After a wild goose chase lasting 25 minutes, he phones his boss to update her on the mistake.

The Lobbused Version: The boss acknowledges the error and takes full responsibility. She urges the teacher to make his way to Ein Karem as soon as possible.

What Actually Happened: The boss demands to know how long it will take to get to Ein Karem and stresses the importance of arriving on time. For the next few months, the boss sends exigent text messages to the teacher underscoring the necessity for punctuality.

Why do I think that it is important to highlight what some people might argue are peripheral/harmless myths? The honest answer is that pretence really annoys me and so does smug self-congratulation.

Also, Israel needs as much integrity and honesty as it can get. This starts at the very top, where politicians are dominated by their egos and self-importance – not to mention short-term thinking. This narcissism is often found in contexts in which people feel the need to defend ‘their turf’– at the expense of fairness and truth.

The euphemistic ‘Lobbus’ can be loved and tolerated; the euphemised depiction of Israel’s work culture should not.

About the Author
Simon was born in London and has spent the last 30 years working in the communications and marketing industry. He lived in Israel between 1979 and 1986, served for 2.5 years in the IDF and subsequently studied English Literature and Theatre Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He returned to London in 1986 and worked as a qualitative researcher and communications coach for leading organisations such as Nestle, Bosch, Diageo, Hewlett Packard, Starbucks, Nationwide Building Society, Waitrose, Wrigley UK and Saatchi & Saatchi. Since returning to Israel in 2012, Simon has been coaching presentation techniques to the corporate and academic communities.
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