Seeing Clearly with the Five Capitals

I come from a long line of visually challenged people. I have a -7.5 prescription, my mom wore “coke bottle...

I come from a long line of visually challenged people. I have a -7.5 prescription, my mom wore “coke bottle bottom glasses” in her teens, my dad has macular degeneration, and my sister has a dysfunctional optic nerve. There is a textbook somewhere showing the back of my sister’s eye because visual signals inexplicably leap across an impossible empty space near her optic nerve. There is no medical explanation for why she can see out of that eye. It is nothing short of a miracle (Coincidentally, my boyfriend is blind in his left eye). My family has so many eye issues that my parents decided to fund a vision clinic for low-income people to give back to our local community. 

When I was eight years old I received my first set of glasses. While in the car with my mom returning from the eye doctor, I commented, “Wow, I had no idea that you could actually see leaves and branches way up high in the trees.” Before that moment, trees had always been just big indistinguishable blobs of green. 

Have you ever learned a new concept and at that moment it is as if time slows down to a crawl and the Universe breaks out a cosmic highlighter just to make sure you are getting this? You have that sense that it is a total game-changer. An idea that alters how you see, suddenly bringing something obscure into sharp focus. One that could take a lifetime to unpack, understand, and apply. Gratefully, I have had several of these revelatory experiences throughout my life; and one of them happened when I heard the concept of the Five Capitals.

Here at Five Capitals, we are thankful to have intellectual property that is so critical and central to our philosophy that our founder, Brandon Schaefer, named the company after it. The Five Capitals concept is foundational to both the business constructs we teach and how we prioritize critical aspects of our lives. I understand that this may be new and to some degree unchartered territory for you. In this post, I want to unpack the basics and bring it into clear focus, just like my first pair of glasses did with those fuzzy treetops.

Okay, in a nutshell, what if all of life can be divided into five general areas or capitals? This idea was originally suggested in a 2009 book called Freakonomics (I’m sure many of you have heard of it) by economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner. The authors even offered that each category, or Capital, has its own currency. Several Christian thought leaders saw this basic concept and recognized that the Bible contained similar themes. These thought leaders also suggested that the capitals have an ideal order that allows everything to function in an ideal state.

In other words, follow the order of priority, and things go well, you thrive and live life to the fullest. Conversely, if we do not get these areas in the proper order of importance, our lives or organizations can quickly become derailed. (It is helpful to think of these five areas as the most critical of a long list of areas of our lives, so while the fifth capital may be a lesser priority than the prior four, it is still top five and therefore, critically important!) Could this idea be a plumb line for thriving and living abundantly both at work and at home? We think so and this has been confirmed over and over again by our coaching clients.

Let’s unpack this further. I am going to keep this explanation simple. I can already imagine your concern about the complexity of such a game-changing philosophy but the reality is its beauty is in its simplicity. The Five Capitals are (1) Spiritual, (2) Relational, (3) Physical, (4) Intellectual and (5) Financial. 

They are defined as follows:

  1. Spiritual Capital is either your relationship with God or your sense of identity and life purpose, depending upon your views. It is measured by the currency of wisdom and power.
  2. Relational Capital is the quality and depth of your connection with other people in your life, the relational equity you have built up. It is measured in influence and impact.
  3. Physical Capital is the time, energy and health we have to invest. It is measured in hours and wellness. 
  4. Intellectual Capital is the creativity and knowledge we have available to invest. It is measured in creativity and insight. 
  5. Financial Capital is the tangible resources we have available to invest. It is measured in dollars and sense.

For all of us, how we spend our time, energy, talent and money quickly reveals the order of these capitals in our lives. Remember the 1970’s Harry Chapin folk-rock song Cats in the Cradle? It did a great job of depicting what goes wrong when we put relationships too low down on the list of capitals in our lives. We all know that career-minded dad who puts Financial above Spiritual, Relational, Intellectual and Physical. We also see people who put Physical Capital above every other, investing in a nip and tuck every chance they get or spending countless hours in the gym. What about that person who must somehow belong to the best social circles and puts Relational Capital first, and yet loses sight of those who are truly worthy of friendship and love?

Interestingly, different industries tend to foster a culture that puts these capitals in a very specific order. Academia elevates Intellectual above all else while Hollywood, the NFL, and the NBA put Physical and Financial at the top of the list. In contrast, Wall Street puts Financial as number one with Relational and Intellectual following behind.

We have applied the Five Capitals concept to businesses and executives on a more corporate level to bring these foundational principles to a larger audience. Spiritual becomes Purpose, Relational becomes People, Physical becomes Pace, Intellectual becomes Perception, and Financial becomes Profit. It is interesting to observe how FEW organizational cultures truly place Spiritual or Purpose at the top and then People second. Most companies go for Profit at the expense of all else, not realizing that when you put these in the right order, namely Purpose, People, Pace, Perception, then Profit logically follows! 

How does this concept play out in your life? Your family? Your workplace? How would keeping Spiritual Capital as number one affect you? On what do you place your identity (worth, value, belonging)? Is it based upon your spiritual beliefs, that you have value, are worthy and belong because of the God who loves you and the Savior who died for you on the cross? Or is it based upon your bank account (Financial), looks (Physical), or what you know and can do (Intellectual). If things in your life are not working, could it be that your capitals are out of order? You would be amazed how powerful this concept is at ‘righting the ship’ when we take the time to self-assess, reprioritized, make changes, and stay accountable in our lives.

It is time to move from confusion to clarity, blurriness to laser focus, dysfunctional prioritizing to abundant life! We have an assessment tool that allows you to dive more deeply into this concept. We also have coaches who would love to walk you through the assessment for yourself as an individual leader, and for your organization.

Here is a chalkboard video that outlines our services here at Five Capitals.

Why not sharpen your vision and take stock of how you are allocating your priorities in life and business? If you are ready for an exciting journey we would be thrilled to work with you.


Holly Cervini

Holly (one of Five Capitals' coaches)

Five Capitals Certified Coach Badge