Spiritual Captial & Spiritual Intelligence

Danah Zohar & Ian Marshall, Spiritual CapitalWealth we can live by, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004

The seminal book in the emerging area of SQ remains Spiritual Capital by husband and wife team Zohar and Marshall. Between them they are learned in physics, psychology and philosophy, and develop a manifesto for personal, corporate and societal change. Given their backgrounds, it is not surprising that two underpinning streams of thought that inform the book come from Complexity Theory and motivational theory. Zohar and Marshall begin with the well-known conundrum within which modern capitalist society finds itself, which they describe as the ‘Monster that consumes itself’; a trajectory of unsustainable and destructive development coupled with an increasing sense of meaninglessness and anomie at a personal and social level.

Here comes the first key insight: that in developed cultures we need to invert Maslow’s well known hierarchy of needs pyramid, so that ‘self-actualisation’ or meaning is what drives the other needs, rather than the basic needs of survival being at the base. Placing meaning as the starting point requires reviewing our concepts of wealth and capital and embracing systems thinking (see Knowledge Connect Summer 2012/13). This leads to the main chapters of the book; the concepts and principles of Spiritual Capital and Spiritual Intelligence, the motivations that drive current behaviour and those that are needed to change that behaviour, and how together they can bring about a transformation.

Zohar and Marshall go further with the broadening of the notions of ‘capital’ that has occurred – from material, social, human and natural to that of Spiritual Capital, which defines a ‘sense of wider meaning, the possession of an enlivening or inspiring vision…and a deep sense of wider purpose’ (p.27). They define spirituality as part of humanity’s search for meaning and purpose. It is what ‘makes us ask why we are doing what we are doing and makes us seek some fundamentally better way of doing it. It makes us want our lives and enterprises to make a difference’ (p.29). Spiritual Capital is the capital necessary to move society to an expanded concept of wealth; one that should inform Corporate Responsibility if it is to be a genuine vehicle to achieve deep transformative change, rather than simply a PR led strategy to maintain a business-as-usual approach.

Linked to the concept of Spiritual Capital is Spiritual Intelligence (SQ). In this book the authors develop further the ideas they originally published in 20001, but here link its role explicitly to building Spiritual Capital. SQ is defined as ‘an ability to access higher meanings, values, abiding purposes, and unconscious aspects of the self and to embed these meanings, values and purposes in living a richer and more creative life’ (p. 3). SQ can be best understood in relation to other forms of intelligence and capitals as summarized in Table 1.

Table 1 Forms of capital & corresponding Intelligence





Material capital IQ – Rational intelligence What I think – the intellectual intelligence we use usually use to solve logical or strategic problems
Social Capital EQ – Emotional Intelligence What I feel – the intelligence we use when we empathise or display compassion with someone else’s situation. It enables us to respond to different situations and behave appropriately to the context of different situations
Spiritual Capital SQ – Spiritual intelligence What I am – the intelligence we use to address and solve problems of meaning and value

Source: Adapted from Zohar & Marshall (2004)

These three forms of capital and intelligence are not mutually exclusive, in fact Zohar and Marshall argue that SQ is a prerequisite for both IQ and EQ to function effectively – it is what they refer to as our ‘ultimate intelligence’. IQ, EQ, and SQ can function separately or together, and more importantly, the authors show how IQ and EQ work within boundaries while SQ allows humans to change the rules and to alter situations. SQ  allows us to play with the boundaries and provides access to higher levels of consciousness. In other words, this is the intelligence required to solve complex social problems.2

Their framework and concepts draw on developments in Complexity Theory and in particular Complex Adaptive Systems and neuroscience. The material is fascinating for those who want to understand the theory behind what has the potential to become a transformational idea and practice, especially in the social impact field. The book outlines 12 principles of SQ (summarized in Table 2), and then goes on to illustrate how the principles can be applied to achieve transformational change at the personal, organisational and societal level.

Table 2 The Twelve principles of SQ



Self-awareness Know what I believe in & value & what deeply motivates me
Spontaneity Live in & be responsive to the moment & all it contains
Vision & Value led Act from principles & deep beliefs & live life accordingly
Holism See larger patterns, relationships, connections. Have a strong sense of belonging
Compassion ‘Feel with’ and have deep empathy
Celebration of diversity Value other people & unfamiliar situations for their differences, not despite them
Field independence Stand against the crowd & maintain my convictions
Ask why? Question things, get to the bottom, criticize the given
Reframe Stand back from the problem or situation & look for the bigger picture & wider context
Positive use of adversity Own & learn from mistakes & see problems as opportunities
Humility Have a sense of being a player in a larger drama, of my true place in the world
Vocation Feel ‘called’ to serve something larger than myself. Have gratitude toward those that have helped me & want to give something back

This book certainly plays with the boundaries rather than within them. It was and remains paradigm shifting and for those interested in SQ and its role in social impact, it is a must read.


[1] Danah Zohar & Ian Marshall, SQ: The ultimate intelligence, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000.
[2] Gianni Zappalà, ‘Solving social problems and demonstrating impact: A tale of two typologies’, CSI Briefing Paper No. 5, 2011.

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