One morning, a farmer gets up in the middle of the desert. Next to his tiny house, the Israeli farmer notices a lush tree. Curious, he investigates and discovers water dripping from the pipe next to the tree.
The farmer lays a water pipe on his farm. He pricks holes at regular intervals and plants a seed next to each hole.
Few days later, the seeds grow into a full plant. He notices that now with 10% of water, he is able to grow the same number of vegetables and fruits. This was the flash of genius for drip irrigation that became a game changer in agriculture in the world.
Ami Dror, weaved this anecdote into a talk he gave at Yale University; the video of which was went viral.
The Israeli entrepreneur said that the moral of the story is that the farmer was neither trying to solve a problem nor trying to innovate. He was just curious and driven by passion.
Author of two books and citing an example from his book, “Survival to Success,” Ami said that his country has water problems.
Israel has water in the north but no land. In the south, she has land but no water. So, in the 1960s, they dug a big canal and from the north to south. This fixed the water problem for good.
Israelis make up only 0.2% of the world population. Yet 22% of the Nobel laureates have Jewish origin. Unlike Bhutan, history has not been kind to Israel. The people faced religious persecution. The Jews suffered generations of discrimination and the horror of the holocaust. For centuries, the people lived in exile, before being able to fulfil their dream of having a state to call their own. The country is surrounded by un-friendly neighbours. Yet, Israel is a success story.
In recent WeChat conversations followed by multiple email exchanges, Ami stated that the key attribute for Israel’s success was innovation.
Ami led an interesting life. He started his career in the secret service. He then worked for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs before starting his education start up in China.
Sharing his Shanghai experience, he said his friends asked him to teach their children how to be innovative. This eventually culminated in another book titled, “Raising Future Innovators”.
In the book, Ami talks about how, when he found out that most of the children in China, ate the same breakfast, he challenged the parents for the next month to make different breakfasts.
He said that, making the same breakfast daily is the easiest. It is the most efficient way for both the parents and the children. Making a slightly different breakfast every morning is not as easy as it sounds.
Ami said that making different breakfast daily creates instability. This is the driver for innovation. He said if you create an environment of instability by constant changes, then this how you drive innovation.
Attributes of Innovation
Israel has a lot of brain power. Many Israelis are groomed to think in the second order, beyond the obvious. This resulted in many innovations.
In the book, “Raising Future Innovators,” Ami attributes three traits for Israel’s success in innovation. These are self-learning, self not learning, leadership of children and being adept in languages.
Ami is the father of three children. He has managed to teach all of them self-learning. He confessed that he has never once helped any of them with their homework. He believes that it is their job to solve the problems and not the job of their parents. He makes exceptions when they explicitly seek his guidance. Ami is one person that can afford private tutors but has never once used them.
Ami said that he understands that the self-learning muscle is not the most efficient muscle. Yet, it is the one that develops passion, inculcates interest and allows you to find your personal identity.
Like many successful tech gurus, he is a believer in free time. In his book, he talks about how companies like Google, Facebook, TenCent and Alibaba require their employees to spend 10% of their time pursuing their passion. This is called, ‘genius hour.’
Ami said for children to be innovative, it is important that they have the same genius hour in their home. “It does not matter what the children choose to do with their free hour.”
To hone their innovation skills, he strongly recommends letting children do whatever they want at least one hour daily. For those children who have a packed schedule, this can come as a big surprise. The logic of not being busy allows room for self-discovery.
In order to discover your true passion, you need to explore countless subjects, discover what triggers you and what doesn’t trigger you, and many times you have to explore the same subject many times. He said, “one cannot tell you what’s your passion – you need to do it yourself, again and again, and you will most probably find multiple passions in the process.”
Leadership of the Children
Coming back to the example of the breakfast, Ami explained how parents are not expected to be creative about it.
He said it is best if the parents challenge the children every evening and say, “Hey, what do you want for breakfast?” If the child says toast and eggs, you can challenge them and say it is not good enough. The idea has to be different.
In my conversations with Ami, he explained that if you are afraid of making mistakes and don’t allow your child to lead, then they will never become leaders. The trait has to be inculcated from an early age. It is important the children be given small tasks daily so they can make decisions.
The third trait, Ami attributes to producing innovators is being adept in languages.
Like most Bhutanese children, every child in Israel is multilingual. A Jewish child can speak Hebrew, English and a third language.
Most Bhutanese children can speak Dzongkha, Sharchop, Nepali, Hindi and English. But the Israeli child has an edge over ours because they can speak the language of the robots.
In 1995, Israel made coding mandatory in their schools. In 2014, it was introduced to the primary schools. Ami said that coding is the language of the Artificial Intelligence. Contrary to popular belief, it is not only for the software engineers.
Citing an example, he said that computers are already writing legal contracts. Obviously, these contracts are better than the ones most lawyer’s draft. Now, imagine, that there two lawyers; one is adept with artificial intelligence and the other not. Which one do you think will survive?
Coding is the game changer. It is the common denominator of the future. You can be an artist, chef or a musician but if you want not only to survive but thrive, the secret is learning the language of the robots.
In our WeChat conversation, Ami explained how coding helps develop self-learning. This trait is crucial because the world we live in is changing so fast, that it has become critical for us to learn every new update. He said, this can be done only by self-learning. Ami declares, “If you know how to learn, no one can stop you.”
He believes that coding empowers the students to become self-learners. Coding can help them to constantly debug their work and also learn new technologies, skills which are critical for success in the 21st century.
Ami was not born into a privileged family. He said he got his first computer at the age of 10. His mother had heard about it. She quickly understood that the device was going to change the future. So, she took a huge loan and bought her son his first computer.
He said, since then, there was no looking back. Like any typical Jewish mother, his mother also knew absolutely nothing about computers. Yet invested in one which changed his life.
Ami said that the most important thing a child needs to learn is the thing you as a parent don’t understand. It is easy to teach your child what you know. But, that is not what they need for the future.
A good parent must encourage a child to learn especially the things the parents are clueless about. This helps the child become smarter than the parents. In the process, the parent also learns.
Despite Israel’s history and geographic limitations, the small state has gained the reputation of being one of the world leaders in innovation and technology.
Israel’s are generally hard to impress but Ami confessed that he is highly impressed with our wise leadership and how we are focused on conservation of our culture and environment. The Israel’s entrepreneur and author has become a well-wisher of Bhutan. He would like to see Bhutan succeed as a nation.