New Capitalism We Can Live By: An Interview with Danah
from Leverage Points Issue 54
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Zohar, author of the bestselling books The Quantum
Self, The Quantum Society, and ReWiring
the Corporate Brain, will be a keynote speaker at
the 2004 Pegasus Conference, Building Collaborations
to Change Our Organizations and the World: Systems Thinking
in ActionŽ, to be held on December 13 in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, USA. A physicist, philosopher, management
thought leader, educator, and author, she teaches organizations
and executives how modern science can transform how
they think and lead. Her work to extend the principles
of quantum physics into a new understanding of human
consciousness, psychology, and social organization has
led to her current groundbreaking books (coauthored
with Ian Marshall) on spiritual intelligence and spiritual
In SQ: Connecting with Our Spiritual Intelligence,
Danah presents scientific evidence for the existence
of spiritual intelligence (SQ), a center in the human
brain that lies at the core of innovation and creative
leadership. In her most recent work, Spiritual Capital:
Wealth We Can Live By, she takes the concept of
spiritual intelligence and applies it to the business
world. The sustainable vision for capitalism she provides
is rooted in a values-based culture in which businesses
generate a decent profit while acting to raise the common
good and ensure the sustainability of their enterprises.
In the following conversation between Danah Zohar and
Leverage Points editor Kali Saposnick, Danah
discusses the influence of quantum physics on her thinking
and how, by building spiritual capital, we can create
effective, sustainable collaborations.
Points: How has your scientific background influenced
your thinking about systems thinking, collaboration,
and spiritual capital?
Danah Zohar: My scientific background has influenced
all my thinking, even the spiritual thinking in my personal
life. I discovered quantum physics at 15, and it stood
my whole world on its head. The ways things based in
Newtonian physics differ from those based in the quantum
physics paradigm has been the whole substance of my
work and runs through it completely.
Newtonian physics conceives of the universe essentially
as little billiard balls, atoms with hard boundaries.
According to this principle, there's no way to change
an atomscientists in the early days didn't know
about subatomic particles or any of the things that
have so radically changed our way of understanding nature.
In the Newtonian model, when two of these billiard balls
meet, they bump into and knock each other off course,
but neither changes the other.
Ideas such as individualism and replaceable parts in
industrial settings emerged from Newton's idea of atomism.
So did the notion that I am essentially alone in the
world, isolated from people. Even Freud said, you are
an object to me and I'm an object to you, and we can
never meet each other.
Quantum systems, on the other hand, are thought to be
concretized balls of energy that take on different forms
as they relate to each other through participating in
the system together. When two quantum systems meet,
they overlap and combine their total identity. All the
patterns of dynamic energy within these systems change
dramatically in relation to each other, leading to the
emergence of a whole new thing that is greater than
the sum of its parts.
Human systems are also patterns of dynamic energy. Our
bodies do not have hard and fast boundaries like billiard
balls. What we interact with changes us, even at the
psychological level. For instance, stress can make us
ill and cause physical disease in certain body parts.
Similarly, being in a successful relationship changes
us in positive ways. My hair color and so on stays the
same, but our interaction changes my character, my aspirations,
and so forth.
From this perspective, it's no longer about "me and
you" but about "us." It's not separation; it's integration.
It's not isolation; it's an understanding that we're
all part of one great big interwoven system. These new
ideas are critical to understanding how we can make
shifts in organizational culture, collaboration, and
LP: How does your concept of spiritual intelligence
apply to these ideas?
DZ: Spiritual intelligence is how we understand
the deeper meaning in life, the deeper purpose, the
deeper values that underlie our behavior. It is the
part of us that asks questions such as, how do our systems
differ, and how do we use our meanings and purpose to
build collaborations that behave more like quantum systems?
Why is that working for a common purpose fosters a more
creative, integrated, holistic team? And what does this
type of work do to the members of the collaboration
as they participate at this level?
When we act like a collection of bouncing billiard balls
in a box, we're often acting against each other. There's
a lot of conflict, competition, jealousy, grudges, and
anger. I argue that today's business culture is operating
from the four negative motivations of fear, greed, anger,
and self-assertion. If you want to create holistic collaborations
where team members become systems within a system, allowing
them to become creative and emergent at every level,
then you've got to act from the higher motivations.
Those are the more "quantum" motivations if you like,
whereas our negative behaviors stem from the more "Newtonian"
In a quantum paradigm, two systems are so overlapped
and combined that they're interwoven with and bound
up in each other's identity. You don't get the same
kind of conflict, grudges, and anger because you've
all become part of one system working together. You
grow together and you create together. Everything becomes
more positive. When we come together for a common purpose,
we become nicer to each other because the common purpose
LP: What is the relationship between spiritual
capital and collaboration?
DZ: Spiritual capital is the wealth or power
an individual or organization has, based on their deepest
meanings, values, and purposes. It is reflected in what
that individual or organization exists for, believes
in, aspires to, and takes responsibility for. We build
spiritual capital by asking spiritually intelligent
questions, such as why do I exist, what is the purpose
of my life, what do I really want to achieve?
If the spiritual capital of a collaboration is high,
that is, if a group has a common aspiration for its
existence that they take responsibility for, then their
collaboration will be an organic synthesis of the people
participating. If the spiritual capital is low, it means
you either don't know what you aspire to or you don't
aspire to anything very high. It means you don't know
why you exist or you just exist to make a profit. It
means you don't think about what you take responsibility
for because you're caught up in your immediate goal,
your short-term thinking. Spiritual capital, if it's
low, can tear a collaboration to pieces. Spiritual capital,
if it's high, is the glue that holds it together.
LP: In your book you write about 12 principles
of transformation that constitute spiritual intelligence.
Are any in particular especially crucial to embed in
DZ: I think all 12 are quite crucial. Remember,
they're not Newtonian principles; they're holistic principles
in that each is internally related to the others. They
don't belong in any particular hierarchy (see the "12
Principles of Transformation" in the right-hand column).
Bearing that in mind, there are a few we can focus on
for purposes of collaboration. One key principle is
self-awareness, to know what you believe in and
value, what deeply motivates you, your deepest purpose
in life. Being vision- and value-led is also
important. This means acting from principles and deep
beliefs and living life accordingly. If I had to stop
at three, I would include celebration of diversity,
which is valuing other people and unfamiliar situations
for their differences, not despite them. In natural
complex adaptive systems, the presence of the different
other causes the system to evolve and leads to good
mutations, adaptations, new situations. If you just
meet others like yourself, then your own system doesn't
change, and it might even begin to atrophy from lack
Ideally, a collaboration needs to be open to many points
of view while being grounded in common values and purposes.
We need to realize that every individual on the planet
has a different way of going about living these values
and purposes, and your difference can teach me something,
can make me grow.
LP: How do you get a critical mass of individuals
to act from higher motivations and evoke those qualities
DZ: One way is the impact that an inspirational
leader who walks the talk can have on those who work
for him or her. People recognize when he or she practices
most of the 12 principles of spiritual intelligence,
and they're influenced to aspire to those principles
as well. Another way is by conducting dialogue groups
at various levelsa team, an entire organization,
a culture, a nationto uncover the motivations
of the people involved.
Most of us are usually not aware that we're acting from
lower motivations. If I asked you to take a motivations
test, you'd probably come out smelling like a rose,
because we all think our motivations are high. But in
a dialogue group where people are listening to and observing
each other, the group can help each other become aware
of what is truly motivating their behavior.
LP: Many people might have a hard time embracing
the concept of spiritual capitalespecially those
who strongly believe in modern capitalism. How do you
sell people on the concept?
DZ: The big link is sustainability. Do you
want it to last or not? Do you care about anything beyond
the next quarterly return? And deeper questions too,
such as can you afford not to care about anything beyond
the next quarterly return?
We all know that most Fortune 500 companies go under
within five years. We know that we're raping the planet.
Harbingers of an impending global crisis are in the
paper every week. For example, we're having oil shortages,
we're not finding new fuels, and the high price of oil
is going to affect our ability to grow economies. Capitalism
as we know it today is a monster consuming itself. It's
not sustainable, and it's going to lead to a major global
By building spiritual capital, however, individuals
and organizations can become much more sustainable.
Sustainability depends on building up the foundations
of your collaboration, your life, your organization.
If we make the changes I recommend, if we develop the
kind of capitalism that has wider concerns, deeper values,
and higher purposes, it will not only be sustainable,
but I think we will find it makes more profit.