Integrity, physics and Turkish Coffee

In this post I philosophize about what Integrity means by making comparisons with Turkish coffee and physics, showings that three distinct parts must come together to have Integrity and that the absence of any of the three results in “pathologies” that can be compliant and even ethical but don’t have integrity.


Turkish coffee is my favorite kind of coffee. Finely ground coffee powder mixed with water and boiled into a dark, strong brew, which is poured into beautiful small cups without filtering the liquid from the coffee grounds. You drink until you feel something sand-like between your teeth. If you want sugar (I don’t), you need to add it in the beginning before boiling it. Because once it’s brewed you cannot stir Turkish coffee with a spoon.

Now what does this have to do with Integrity, you may ask yourself. I will use Turkish coffee as an analogy to explain the term Integrity as I have come to understand it.

In Turkish coffee, the elements come together to be transformed (integrated) into something new; a whole new thing is created which is bigger, better and more beautiful than the sum of its parts.


This relates to my understanding of the term integrity as a physicist, my university background. In physics, we use a lot of mathematics. Basically I see physics as the application or the manifestation of otherwise abstract ideas of mathematics in nature. (Or you could say that mathematics is the language in which physics describes the laws of nature. But I digress.)

Anyway, in physics and mathematics, we use differentiation or derivatives to analyze; to dig deeper, to find constituents, elements, characteristics of an object. Integration is the opposite operation that brings an object to a higher level, brings the parts together again to form a whole. Also: integer numbers are whole numbers as opposed to fractions. (And I should mention say that I studied Latin at school for seven years, so integer meaning whole also rings a bell from it’s linguistic roots.)

Integrity as a value/virtue

Now for integrity as a value not only in business, but also as a virtue in human life.

I recently drew up the following picture to analyze Integrity and show what the difference is to Ethics and to Compliance.

Three distinct elements have to come together:

  1. Head or Mind: An ethical mindset, values, guiding principles.
  2. Heart: Caring, love, passion, the feeling for the importance of the good cause.
  3. Hand: Putting it into action. Doing the right thing.

All of these taken together are forming Integrity as a whole or holistic concept. Doing the right things out of conviction and with passion guided by an ethical and principled mindset.

If one of the elements is absent, the result is not whole, is not integrity but one of the following “pathologies”:

  1. Head and Hand, but no Heart: Compliance – but either forced or grudging compliance with a set of given rules, orders or commands. Obedience, but not intrinsically motivated.
  2. Head and Heart but no Hand: Prophet on the mountain, pacifist, know-it-better but unable or not willing to assume responsibility and act. Can result in cynicism, self-righteousness, risk-aversion and depression, “internal auditor syndrome”.
  3. Heart and Hand but no Head: Activist, anarchist, terrorist – all is possible.

In this sense, it’s actually not true that “Integrity is doing the right thing even if no one is watching.” That’s actually only Compliance. The Heart is missing.

… and coffee again

The same is true for Turkish coffee: If you just have coffee powder and water you will get a brown cold something. If you have only heat and coffee powder, you’ll end up with ashes. And if you take only heat and water, you will get hot water. Only combining all three of them you will get a delicious Turkish coffee.

3 thoughts on “Integrity, physics and Turkish Coffee

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