Integral Inside – The Not-so-hidden Operating System of Resilient Investing

By Hal Brill

As our book, The Resilient Investor, moves into production, I’ve been reflecting on the influences that led Christopher, Michael, Jim, and I to come up with such an expansive guide to life planning. We each brought our own experiences and perspectives to the project, but what made it possible to weave the strands into a cohesive system is that each of us is familiar with Ken Wilber’s integral theory.

HB_integral-quadrantsMy exposure to integral started with a subscription to a now-defunct magazine called What is Enlightenment? Each issue contained a fascinating conversation between Wilber and the magazine’s founder, Andrew Cohen. Wilber’s 25 books (and counting) lay out a “theory of everything” that brings together insights from a vast range of academic fields and wisdom traditions. I lack the fortitude for such rigorous scholarly gymnastics, so I’ve only read a small fraction of his works. But I’ve heard him speak and attended a couple of integral conferences, gleaning enough that by now, my perspective of the world is indelibly framed by this mind-expanding map of human consciousness.

I’ve long been convinced that SRI—Sustainable and Responsible Investing—needs to continually evolve so that it can reach a wider audience and increase its effectiveness. Seeking ways to do this, in 2010 I signed up for a week-long program called the Integral Incubator. It was designed as an opportunity for people to bring their pet project to the Boulder Integral Center, where there would be coaching and support to help us apply integral to our own work.

It was there that Jeff Salzman, the event organizer, told me that even though our approach has a strong integral core, calling our new book “integral investing” would actually limit our audience. The term sounds rather intellectual and doesn’t have widespread recognition. We puzzled over this advice for some time, but as the concept of “resilience” leapt onto the scene, we knew we had found a way to, as Jeff counseled, put “integral inside”; the book could harness the elegance of integral theory while appealing to anyone who wants to be prepared for these uncertain and precarious times.

There are five elements that comprise the integral map, and we applied each of them in The Resilient Investor. For example, integral talks about “quadrants.” As you can see, this framework divides the world into “interiors” and “exteriors”, and “individual” and “collective,” helping us to make sure that we are looking at any issue or idea from all perspectives. But how would one apply this to investing, which is usually thought of as something one does to achieve a desired effect “out there” in the exterior world? Is there a way to invest in one’s interiors?

Of course there is! We wove interiors into our Resilient Investing Map on the top row, which is called Personal Assets:

Personal and social assets (which we refer to simply as personal assets) compose the row that we are least likely to think of as part of our investment choices. . . . This is humanity’s oldest asset class and is still the one in which many of us are most actively engaged. Here we take care of ourselves—mind, heart, body, and soul—as well as nurture the web of social relationships that define us: partner, family, neighborhood, school, church, community, culture, country, and even global social networks. (from Chapter 2 of The Resilient Investor)

When looking at investing with integral eyes, you realize that it’s at least as important to direct our attention inwards as outwards. In the book, we offer examples of ways we can invest in our health, education, and personal growth. We make the case that personal assets can be the most stable and valuable form of investment that most of us hold. And when economic times get rough, they can often be the ones that reap the highest returns.

Watch this site’s blog for further reflections on how other elements of integral theory can be applied to help you become more resilient.

For a concise, clear introduction to integral, I recommend Salzman’s website, The Daily Evolver. Jeff offers a podcast that explores current events through an evolutionary perspective, and his resource section is a great place to start learning.