Don’t Disparage Desperation: It May Save Us

By Shlomo Maital   

   These are desperate times.  Many people have lost their jobs and are realizing they will not get them back.  Weekly job creation numbers in the US consistently fall well below predictions.  And long-term unemployment threatens to become permanent, for many.

    But – don’t disparage desperation.  It can bear fruit.  Some 4 million new US businesses have been launched in 2020 alone – close to a record pace.  Many who have lost employment and have little hope of finding jobs in the future, are starting their own businesses.  And the money to finance them has not declined – venture capital continues strong.  With market interest rates low, pension funds and others seek ways to boost their return and high-tech is one of them.

    Before the pandemic, I was fortunate to host many visitos from abroad, who came to Israel to learn why Israelis are creative and launch scads of startups.  They want the ‘secret sauce’ recipe – the answer to Israel’s creativity.  I always admit that I really don’t know, even after living in this country for 53 years and observing its entrepreneurs closely.

    However – here is a hypothesis.  It’s about culture. Israel has a culture of improvisation.  It was born in 1948, when Israel’s then-Prime Minister declared independence and the tiny poor country with only some 600,000 people was attacked by its neighbors.  Survival odds were very low.  Weapons were hard to find.  So Israelis took water pipes and fashioned crude mortars out of them.  Desperation.

     When biomedical experts saw the pandemic spread, in its early days, they understood what it meant – better than the politicians.  They became desperate – and the result is an unprecedented number of effective vaccines, that before the end of year will begin to vaccinate people in Britain and perhaps in the US.  No vaccine has ever been developed and tested in less than a year.  Desperation.

      Desperation can lead to panic. It can lead to depression and deep anxiety.  But for some, it can lead to wild ideas that change the world.  So – what is the difference between “destructive desperation” and “creative desperation” – or, as Schumpeter alled it, creative destruction?

     I think it is one key principle.  Assumptions.  If you assume that even in the most desperate situations, there IS a solution, there IS an answer, I just have to find it…   then you will eventually find an answer.  IF you assume that no, it is hopeless, the odds are too great, I’m doomed, it’s a lost cause – then your brain never will come up with anything useful.

      Even in desperate situations, there is hope.  There is hope, if you believe there is – and seek ideas to escape.   And you know, even if you fail, the very act of taking action, of doing something, will save you from apathy and depression.  And perhaps that in itself is a partial solution?