Rev. Dr. Bruce Baker, Ph.D.
September 21, 2013
Spiritual capital is becoming a hot topic. It helps explain the appeal of new ideas like Bill Gates’s “creative capitalism” and John Mackey’s “conscious capitalism.” Yet it goes beyond those secular notions by recognizing the spiritual side of work. To be able to create value is a spiritual blessing. It’s core to what makes us human. And when people pool their efforts to do wholesome business, that’s a sign of their embodied spirituality. Spiritual capital shows up in all kinds of businesses. We see it in Merck’s mission to heal disease, IBM’s commitment to corporate citizenship, and Broetje Orchards’s holistic concern for workers’ families. Oftentimes it has been evident in the religious faith of corporate founders, even when religious expression has been dropped from corporate communications, as has been the case with ServiceMaster’s aim to honor God, and Alaska Airlines’ printing of prayerful psalms. These are but a few examples of companies whose market valuation contains a healthy amount of goodwill attributable to their spiritual capital.
But what exactly is spiritual capital, anyway?
We can think of capital as a potential energy source which can be released and harnessed to produce something of value to society. Imagine a mountain reservoir. The enormous power of water pouring through a dam can generate enough electricity to power whole cities. So it is with capital. Financial capital can be accumulated and poured into productive streams. But for that capital to be harnessed effectively, it needs efficient infrastructure, just like the pipes, turbines, and generators in a dam. A healthy society provides all kinds of social infrastructure for capitalism, and for that reason the social components of capitalism are often referred to as “social capital” or “human capital.” These include intellect, education, relationships, rule of law, willpower and emotional energy—all necessary ingredients for the deployment of financial capital into wholesome, productive channels.
But underlying all these types of social capital is the great hidden asset of capitalism—spiritual faith. Faith is the life force which inspires and energizes great works. Its role in capitalism is so intangible and hard to describe however, that its crucial importance often goes unmentioned, even though it is absolutely necessary for the sustenance of economic life. Like the manna God gave to feed the people in the desert, it is little understood although essential for bodily life. Spiritual capital is like that, too. It comes from God as a gift; it provides energy for life; and it sustains the economic life of a society.
Spiritual capital is so much a part of daily life that people have come up with a wide variety of non-religious expressions of it—“team spirit,” “corporate soul,” “mojo,” “good will.” These are but a few of the phrases used to describe the fruit of this mysterious spiritual gift which brings life and vitality to organizations and societies. Secular businesses as well as religious organizations benefit from and depend upon spiritual capital, whether or not they identify it as a gift from God.
But what makes spiritual capital spiritual? From a Christian perspective, the answer is clear—it is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is within this context of faith that I offer this working definition of spiritual capital: The capacity of a society or community of work to receive and experience the tangible blessings of wholesome prosperity (shalom) bestowed by God. Two implications are immediately apparent: first, we recognize the Holy Spirit as the true source of life-giving sustenance and fruitfulness; and second, spiritual capital follows upon the biblical mandate of stewardship and covenant relationship with the God of Grace.
From this perspective of faith, we realize that spiritual capital is received as a blessing from God. It is different from other forms of capital in that, “How do we capitalize on it?” is the wrong question. The right question is rather, “How do we nurture it and share it?” It’s a blessing that increases when it is shared.
For business leaders and managers, this begins with attentiveness to the spiritual climate of our organization. Do we practice spiritual disciplines in our personal lives? Do we develop spiritual disciplines and strengths among our people? Do we cultivate relationships wherein people are explicitly encouraged to see their job within the spiritual reality of work and enterprise?
Spiritual capital is a life-giving gift. We give thanks to God for it when we receive it, and in the process we are rewarded with the discovery of how He magnifies the gift by establishing the work of our hands [Psalm 90:17].
Rev. Dr. Bruce Baker is a former technology entrepreneur who became a Presbyterian pastor and theologian. He teaches theology of business and ethics as a professor at Seattle Pacific University.
Beginning Fall quarter 2013, Dr. Baker is teaching on the development of spiritual capital within organizations in Spiritual Formation for Management (BUS 6917), a new graduate-level seminar offered by SPU's School of Business and Economics. The seminar provides in-depth study of various issues related to the integration of Christian spirituality and management, and the application of theological insights across business discipline areas. Topics vary from offering to offering. The same topic cannot be taken for credit more than once, but the course may be repeated for up to six credits. Open to auditors and certificate program students. For more information, contact Dr. Baker directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An occasional essay by Bruce Baker, presented to the Center for Integrity in Business
What does it take to get a new company off the ground? Or to bring a new product to market? We all know that new business development requires a certain kind of “right stuff”—an entrepreneurial spirit, if you will—a kind of energy and enthusiasm which aims to do something new and different because it’s worth doing. It takes a certain kind of character and spiritual energy to push past all the obstacles that stand in the way. There seems indeed to be some kind of “right stuff” which is just as important in launching a business as it is in launching a space capsule.
Strength of human spirit is required in such endeavors. In business, we may refer to this strength as “spiritual capital,” an ingredient just as crucial to success as financial capital. We find spiritual capital in people who seem to have the right stuff when it comes to entrepreneurism. This spiritual capital seems to be like art—we know it when we see it, but we have a hard time defining it. But what if we could get better at recognizing it, understanding it, cultivating it and rewarding it? What a benefit that would be for building high-performance businesses with integrity and the “right stuff”! That’s exactly what I hope to help do with my current research project. I’m researching companies where spiritual capital is on display: identifying it, interviewing the entrepreneurs who have it, and analyzing the organizations where it thrives. I can think of nothing more thrilling in my business career than to have been a part of entrepreneurial start-ups in several different places. One of those places (which has become famous for its own special mystique) is Silicon Valley, and that's where my research into this topic will begin.*
California’s Silicon Valley symbolizes the entrepreneurial spirit which has made American business the world’s pace-setter for inventiveness and technological advancements. The success of start-up companies in Silicon Valley can be traced back to the early days of “Bill & Dave’s” garage in Palo Alto, where in 1938 they developed the audio oscillator which launched the company that still bears their names—Hewlett Packard. The prolific productivity of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who have followed in their footsteps during the past 70 years has become legendary, and has led to the creation a venture capital industry which leads the world in wealth-creation through entrepreneurial start-ups.
The culture of these entrepreneurial companies deserves to be studied for the sake of the witness it can bring to a theological understanding of human inventiveness and industriousness. How do entrepreneurial companies recognize, enhance and harness the creative talents of the human spirit? What can we learn from their experience about the concept of spiritual capital? To what extent do these companies formulate and communicate an ethos that recognizes and builds upon the source of human dignity found in the imago Dei? These are some of the questions I’ll be pursuing.
In academic terms, the hypothesis to be tested is that there are models of transformational leadership at work here which point to a transcendent concept of human nature. This understanding of human nature transcends other concepts, such as homo economicus, an idea popularized in 20th-century economics based on the idea that human nature can be reduced to utilitarian, conscious decisions to maximize happiness. The flaw in that idea of human nature is that the quintessential humanness of human kind cannot be reduced to economics functions; but rather it has to be understood in a larger context of spirituality expressed in and through relationships with one another and with God.
This research project therefore aims to discover how the goals, aspirations, leadership styles and corporate cultures represented by Silicon Valley companies bear witness to a bigger notion of human nature—that is, to a theological understanding of human nature. By studying the entrepreneurial ethos of representative companies, our hope is to learn practical lessons which managers and entrepreneurs can use to build up and deploy spiritual capital for the sake of their employees, customers and the greater community.
If this sounds interesting, I would love to hear from you. Here’s how you can help: send me an email. Share your ideas with me regarding what “spiritual capital” means to you. Share stories with me, and give me examples of people and companies you know. Perhaps you would even be willing to take part in a personal interview on the topic. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks! And thanks for your support of the Center for Integrity in Business. They occupy a unique and much-needed niche by providing thought leadership in some of the most crucial aspects of business.
* By the way, Seattle is right there on a par with Silicon Valley these days, but I’m going to start my research with the Silicon Valley, which is where a critical mass of the start-up culture seems to have first arisen.
Dr. Bruce Baker is Asst. Professor of Business Ethics at Seattle Pacific University. His previous work includes founding and leading high-tech companies, and serving as a general manager at Microsoft. The CIB is pleased to sponsor his current research project: Silicon Valley and the Human Spirit: an inquiry into the entrepreneurial ethos of California’s Silicon Valley with lessons for the development of spiritual capital. For further information you may contact Dr. Baker at email@example.com.
First there was Occupy Wall Street, but now the noisiest protest seems to be coming from those who wish to occupy the Internet. The irony of it all is that this time, it’s the powerful corporations who are staging the sit-in (or ‘blackout’ or ‘shutdown’, as the case may be), ostensibly on behalf of grassroots consumers. The power brokers of cyberspace, led by Google and Wikipedia, have mounted a substantial protest against the anti-piracy bills being debated in Congress. The bills known as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Prevent Internet Piracy Act) have been attacked as threats to our freedom of speech and free market economics.
“Imagine a world without free knowledge…” begins Wikipedia’s protest page, “Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet” [BBC News, NY Times, Jan. 19, 2012]. This must be some powerful bad medicine, if it threatens to kill the patient. At least, that seems to be the position taken by Wikipedia’s publicists.
Whether or not these pieces of legislation have been well-crafted is certainly open to debate. I’m not concerned here with the legalities, but rather with the moral stance of the corporate protesters. The invective being thrown at these bills calls into question the integrity of the internet companies’ response. What moral weight do their tweets and texts bear? Consider the source: these proclamations and accusations are voiced by the companies who make their living by building and driving traffic in cyberspace.
The protesters are careful, of course, to avoid any appearance that they are in favor of piracy. They don’t question the motivations or intentions of the legislation aimed at reining in the pirates out there far from our shores (China, Russia and the Middle East are frequently listed as pirate-friendly safe harbors).
Rather than offer constructive suggestions however for how to combat piracy, the corporate protests seemed designed to upset and rally people to the cry that this legislation may be bad for business. For their business, that is. Let’s be clear about that, because it was designed specifically to protect the business of other companies who produce the valuable content being peddled in cyberspace. One protester in San Francisco, representing an online travel company, put it plainly, “this legislation is bad, it would directly impact our company.” [NY Times, Jan. 19, 2012]
It’s the self-serving tone of such protests that raises the question of integrity. There is precious little moral content in the argument that what’s bad for my business is bad, regardless of how it affects others.
Of course the protesters do not mean to suggest that their moral footing is grounded in self-interest; rather, they imply that their moral authority stems from their concern for freedom as a general principle, as well as concern for the individual information consumers in particular. Of course, this argument is also suspect because their altruism seems to flow from concern for their own customers—the consumers of information services.
These moral arguments are weak. In the first instance, the argument for freedom could just as well be claimed by their opponents who argue for the freedom to earn a living and not to have their products stolen by pirates. Freedom of information is not an issue being questioned by the legislation; piracy is. In the second instance, concern for their own customers once again begs the question of whether the protests are self-serving.
A sincere moral argument rooted in altruism would take a different course. It would demonstrate motive and desire to help solve the piracy problem. It would demonstrate resolve and commitment on the part of the Board of Directors and management to help address a problem that is significantly undermining other significant businesses in our economy.
To protect one’s self-interest with defensive arguments lacks integrity to any source of morality higher than hunger or survival. True integrity recognizes a higher calling, namely, to act out of sincere concern for others’ welfare. That is why biblical notions of morality, based in kenotic self-emptying of self-importance, are just as critical to corporate moral authority as they are to personal integrity.
Perhaps the protesters had valid reason to question the structure of these bills. In that case they might have addressed those issues head-on in a manner which carried much greater moral strength. They might have shown integrity by demonstrating their sincere concern to solve the problem. They might have offered ways to strengthen their current anti-piracy policies. And yes, because “business is business”, this would most likely cost them something in the short run. But in the long run they would have demonstrated a concern for our entire economic system and not just for their own slice of it. They would also be living into the higher calling of integrity which flows from an understanding of the biblical call to be witnesses to a greater reality than pecuniary self-interest.
Bruce Baker is an Assistant Professor of Business Ethics at Seattle Pacific University.