Integrative Intelligence for a Trust-based Worldview for Business

By Sharda Nandram, Puneet Bindlish and Navin Keizer

Trust forms the bedrock of any business and can be seen as the fundamental currency of all human activity. The nurturing of trust is key to risk management, innovativeness and economic progress. Businesses benefit from several types of intelligence, especially those that give them power owing to an asymmetry of knowledge. However, firms often lack Integrative Intelligence, a key ability that creates new opportunities to incorporate both technology and soft human factors in order to harmoniously nurture trust.


The word trust forms an integral part of our lives at different levels, such as emotional, psychological, sociological and economic. Researchers have demonstrated that humans have an innate propensity to be trusting,1 and that trust has a moderating impact on our behaviour and interrelational activities, especially economic activities.2 The level of trust indicates the amount of risk that entities can take, especially in complex situations where rational reasoning is either impossible or unpragmatic. Furthermore, as technologies and formal institutions rapidly spread, we require an understanding of their impact on different aspects of trust, including nurturing, evaluation and expression. To date, a great deal of effort has been spent on evaluating (or measuring) trust with the hope of pushing entities towards nurturing and expressing a greater degree of trust. Numerous institutions measure explicit or tacit expressions of trust at various levels. For instance, the Trust Barometer3 measures trust in relation to countries’ willingness to accept innovations (as an expression of trust). Based on data from the Trust Barometer report 2015, countries’ trust rankings show movement of United Arab Emirates (UAE), China, India and Indonesia towards the top with several European nations including Germany, France and Spain plus Japan and Korea towards the bottom.

However, evaluations of trust alone cannot lead us through the various problems related to distrust. We must develop a holistic understanding of trust if we are to incorporate it into our activities, and integratively and sustainably nurture and express it. Clearly, businesses and their stakeholders cannot afford to ignore trust.    


Trust: the currency of business

We must develop a holistic understanding of trust if we are to incorporate it into our activities, and integratively and sustainably nurture and express it.

Trust forms the bedrock of any business and can be seen as the fundamental currency of any interrelational activity among a businesses’ stakeholders. Trust’s importance, as well as the ways of evaluating and expressing it, varies with the nature of the business and the interrelations among stakeholders in various sub-contexts. For instance, consumer trust plays a role in consumer-product and customer-company interrelations. Trust also plays a role in workforce-company interrelations in the context of motivation,4 and it enhances coherence in the workforce  (as a diverse workforce may not have a common background or similarities on which to rely). In company-stakeholder interrelations, trust is seen as a means for managing risk and can serve as an alternative to control systems.6 

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Trust has been defined in numerous ways7 and it has even more connotations in different contexts. Given our aim of taking a holistic view on trust, we endeavour to bring out the key elements of trust and their connotations in relation to the modern business context. Regardless of the context, trust is largely seen as an aspect of a relationship between two or more entities: a trustor and the trustees. An integrative definition of trust is the following:

The willingness of an entity (trustor) to be vulnerable to another entity’s (trustee) actions based on the trustor’s expectation that the trustee will perform a particular action regardless of the trustor’s ability (or power) to monitor or control the trustee or enforce that action or evaluate the outcome.

This definition schema has several key elements:

1. Entity. The trustor and the trustees can be living (e.g., individuals, communities) or non-living entities (e.g., technologies, organisations, companies, formal or informal institutions).

2. Expectations. Expectations encompass outcomes, desires and expected actions

3. Willingness. This can be an intent to delegate the actor’s role to a trustee with the aim of fulfilling the expectation. In cases involving human entities, the intent involves belief in the trustee’s honesty, fairness and benevolence towards the trustor in the context of the expected action.

4. Risk. Risk is articulated in several ways (e.g., vulnerability, uncertainty, failure, betrayal). By being vulnerable, the individual takes certain risks, especially the risks of failure of an expected action and betrayal.

5. Ability (or power) to influence. This encompasses all kinds of influence: monitoring, controlling, enforcing and evaluating. After the expected action, some of these abilities will be exercised, after which trust is either established or eroded.Trust involving human and non-living entities, such as technologies, seems to follow this integrative definition schema of trust. However, upon deeper philosophical investigation, we may realise that by trust we actually mean “confidence” or “reliance”, which refer to the trustee’s or trustor’s expectations of predictability, certainty or reliability. These two meanings differ in terms of the risk element – human entities run the risk of betrayal, while the risk in the case of non-human entities is one of potential failure. Psychologically, a human trustor can be suspicious about a human trustee (distrust).8 However, in relation to a non-human trustee, the feeling would be an anxiety or uncertainty.

Consider, for example, an investor (trustor) who meets with a bank-fund manager (trustee, a human who represents the bank for the trustor) with an expectation that the fund manager will work towards the maximisation of returns on any invested funds in a fair and benevolent manner. This trustor runs the risk of being betrayed (through, e.g., unethical investment practices or if the fund manager’s interests conflict with the trustor’s expectation) as well as the risk of sub-optimal returns. Clearly, however, the investor has some ability to monitor, control, enforce or evaluate the investment returns.

In contrast, consider a bank customer (trustor) using a blockchain-based banking platform (trustee, a technology) with an expectation that records will be accurately and consistently kept, and that the system will be available for transactions when needed. The customer runs the risk of a system malfunction due to technical glitches or hacking. In this case, the customer has a limited ability to monitor, control, enforce or evaluate the technology. In relation to the technology, the word trust can be interchanged with the words reliance or confidence. However, if the customer believes that the technology holder can manipulate the system for its own best interests, then trust is the suitable term.


Integrative Worldview and Integrative Intelligence (II)

As the concept of trust involves more than one entity, it becomes necessary to contemplate the worldviews (i.e., the perspectives and purposes) of the entities involved. A “worldview” is an understanding of reality that is derived by examining where things come from, what they lead to, what they are, what is right or wrong, how much is truly understood and how to put ideas into practice. In the absence of such contemplation, a worldview may lead to one-sided understandings or expectations, and related actions. The most prominent example in business is the increase in unethical behaviour and corporate scandals due to leadership’s pursuit of its own interests, which has led to an erosion of trust among stakeholders. This calls for a holistic treatment of trust.


The need for an integrative worldview: the financial-services crisis

Due to various scandals and incidents involving unethical behaviour, especially in the last two decades, there has been growing scepticism about bankers, which has led to a sharp decline in trust.

One of the economic sectors in which people have historically relied on trust is the financial sector, which is arguably one of the most influential sectors in modern society. Due to various scandals and incidents involving unethical behaviour, especially in the last two decades, there has been growing scepticism about bankers, which has led to a sharp decline in trust. Bankers are increasingly portrayed as the exploitative faces of capitalism. Even their legitimate contributions to society are being undermined. The consequence is a feeling of hostility between the financial sector and public stakeholders.

The crisis in the financial sector
In 2008, an event occurred that many had not anticipated – people lost faith in bankers. Many years prior to that event, the Fed reduced interest rates to a level so low that the housing market soared and people began buying houses with money they did not have. Bad subprime mortgages were approved and a false illusion of trust was created when banks bought the risk in the form of CDOs with AAA ratings. Trust in the housing market was high. However, when the housing bubble burst, the banks’ risk-assessment models did not hold up. The general ignorance and the bank’s poor risk assessments had created not only a banking crisis but also a global economic crisis that took numerous banks, including Lehman Brothers, down. As a result of the financial sector’s optimism and negligence, which led to the banking crisis and the global economic crisis (Amadeo 2016a, 2016b), people seem to lose all trust in bankers. Bankers were no longer viewed as smart or ethical enough to have so much economic power, and their disproportionate bonuses (and, at times, somewhat questionable practices) were seen as the underlying reasons for the sector’s problems.


As capitalism is a product of widespread, linear worldviews (i.e., anthropocentric and scientific), it is not surprising that the financial sector falls under the same worldviews. The belief that all humans can try to work themselves up in the world, even if they hurt or fiscally damage others in the process, manifested itself in the 2008 recession. The optimistic belief that humans can do anything, which is also typical of the scientific worldview, was evident in the housing bubble. People thought that the housing market would only grow and this optimism proved fatal. In the years prior to the crisis, the banks took on too many unnecessary risks and loans in order to make money.

The ambition to keep growing, to continue increasing revenue, and to constantly be more successful is central to the anthropocentric worldview. The belief that predictive methods and statistics can be used to model everything is a manifestation of the scientific worldview, which also encompasses an expectation that the world develops in a linear manner without any unexpected occurrences, and the view that models offer a near perfect approximation of the real world. The idea that man is central and “owns” nature is often clear in the financial sector. This is also linked to the view that as the world is linear and predictable, it is acceptable to take huge risks if there is high potential reward, even if doing so hurts others. This hints at a need to explore non-linear, integrative worldviews to uncover possible solutions and stem further erosion of trust.


An integrative worldview

Intentionally discarding other worldviews is a conscious choice that influences the level of trust among entities in one’s adopted context. Businesses and stakeholders can avoid this worldview fallacy by adopting an integrative worldview, which aims to bring coherent inferences together in order to build a trust-based image and relationships. This worldview can illuminate blind spots or provide new insights, as it enriches our understanding of the different perspectives and purposes of the stakeholders involved.

An integrative worldview follows five philosophical principles. The first is an underlying belief in the possibility of multiple manifestations of the same integral truth. The second encompasses the holistic attainment of life goals (i.e., self-responsibility, self-interest, self-reliance and self-freedom). This means incorporating all aspects, perspectives and purposes to achieve these goals. The third principle is embodied knowing, which creates space for several ways of knowing, especially experiential.

The fourth principle involves doing without “doership”. This principle underplays the fact that the entity is a conscious doer. The fifth refers to a belief in the existence of a natural connectedness among everyone and everything. Non-linear worldviews usually follow these principles.


Integrative Intelligence

This integrative worldview allows for the application of intelligence in an integrative manner, which we have termed Integrative Intelligence. Integrative Intelligence can be defined as: 

An entity’s ability to apply oneself in order to holistically interrelate all aspects, all perspectives and all purposes of other entities in one’s adopted context with an a priori intention to achieve a coherent view (without discarding any aspect, perspective and purpose in that adopted context).

Integrative Intelligence is the ability to pursue a holistic approach with the aim of realising a coherent view driven by an inherent need for self-freedom.

In other words, Integrative Intelligence is the ability to pursue a holistic approach with the aim of realising a coherent view driven by an inherent need for self-freedom. Here, the adopted context is the context that the trustor consciously or wilfully adopts. This ability to understand interrelationships and the goal of coherence give rise to an ability to nurture and exercise trust in a holistic way.


The road ahead

We can observe Integrative Intelligence in varying degrees across all formal and informal human institutions. This offers hope that Integrative Intelligence is already intrinsically present – it just needs to be nurtured in order to enhance trust among all stakeholders. There are several notable examples of trust-based organisations thriving with Integrative Intelligence. Here, we share two of them, which were intentionally chosen from two very different contexts: Buurtzorg Nederland and Mumbai Dabbawalas. Both organisations have self-organised or self-managed organisational designs with a high degree of trust among all stakeholders. That trust drastically reduces the need for formal operational and quality-assurance procedures.



A trust-based supply chain: the Mumbai Dabbawalas Based in: Mumbai
Founder: Maadeo Havaji Bachche Established: 1890 Headcount: 5,000 Clients served: 200,000 What they do: Dabbawalas move cooked food in tiffin carriers (dabbas) from employees’ homes to their workplaces and brings empty tiffin carriers back again. They move more than 400,000 dabbas daily. How they do it: There are two fascinating aspects to the Dabbawala business story. First, the dabbawalas have no formal learning or schooling, and they come from underprivileged homes. They are employed as dabbawalas with the aims of brushing up their skills and providing them with a career. Second, the dabbawalas do not use any kind of telecommunication or technology. The entire task is based on a code marked on the top of the dabbas. The meals are delivered 99.9999% of the time. The dabbawalas received a “Six Sigma” award, which not only focuses on certification but also on customer satisfaction.
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Based in: Almelo, Netherlands Founders: Jos de Blok, Gonnie Kronenberg, Ard Leferink Established: 2006 Headcount: 14,000 Clients served: 100,000 What they do: Buurtzorg is a leading European community-based home-nursing provider. The company offers cost-efficient, high-quality, in-home care for people in need. The concept is globally respected, widely recognised and the fastest-growing model for home care. How they do it: Buurtzorg’s approach is based on its unique community-care model and a unique organisational model of self-management. The company has implemented a nurse-led model in which nurses work in autonomous teams of 10-12. They organise themselves, set up their own offices, recruit new personnel and acquire patients through general practitioners or hospital referrals. IT connects the teams to each other and to the headquarters.

Businesses build policies, set up compliance procedures and introduce standardisation. These activities are mostly aimed at evaluating trust with the hope of affecting the nurturing and expression of trust. Notably, technological innovations such as blockchain, are being pursued under the assumption that the transacting entities inherently lack trust. However, forcing humans to fit together in technological frameworks creates an unsustainable situation, as humans naturally have a tendency to trust others. The integrative worldview allows for contextualisation and harmonious integration of these developments with the natural human disposition of trust, without discarding either of them or being skewed towards one. Integrative Intelligence, in turn, provides an ability to nurture (and potentially express) trust in a more holistic and integrative way.


About the Authors

Sharda S. Nandram is a consultant and a co-founder of Praan Group. She is also a psychologist, economist and professor at Nyenrode Business University and Banasthali University. She is a co-founder of Integrative Intelligence, which helps organisations facing VUCA. She has more than three decades of academic, consulting and entrepreneurial experience in the healthcare, accountancy, banking and insurance, public service, education, and sports sectors.

Puneet K. Bindlish is a practicing consultant and an academic in the area of Integrative Intelligence for organisations facing VUCA. He is also a co-founder of Integrative Intelligence. He teaches at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) in Varanasi, India. He has rich academic, consulting and entrepreneurial experience in the healthcare, telecom, technology, banking and insurance, education, sports, and public-service sectors

Navin V. Keizer is currently part of the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Master’s program at University College London, and he has spent a year abroad at Columbia University. He is fascinated by business, technology and the role of big data, which has led him to study strategic and investment issues in organisations integratively using the newest technologies. Several internships have given him experience in the practical issues of business.



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10. This figure has been taken from the book Understanding Integrating Intelligence (2010) by the same authors. Permission to reproduce in this article given by the publishers – Praan Uitgeverij, The Netherlands.

11. Adapted from Figure 4.3 in: Nandram et al. (2017). Understanding Integrative Intelligence, Praan Uitgeverij, Netherlands pg 84.

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14. Nandram S., Bindlish P. (2017). Understanding Integrative Intelligence, Praan Uitgeverij. Chapter 8 pages 144-189.


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