Enneagram Wrap Up

While you don’t want to be too quick to categorize someone, categorization does serve a purpose. It gives you a mental model for dealing with situations, and mental models can be very helpful once their accuracy is sufficiently tuned by real world experience. However, mental models that are just learned from a book can be very risky. Because no idea you get from a book is really yours until you’ve actually tested it, tweaked it, and made it your own, now we need to discuss some of the dos and don’t for using the enneagram in the real world. Like design patterns, enneagram types don’t really exist – rather they are a type and categorization of things that do exist. The distinction is important, because to do well at anything requires that you submit to reality, rather than to a generalization of reality. While the latter is tempting and makes you feel like you have an explanation for everything, it’s fraught with peril, because you don’t. Reality is messy and requires learning when to apply book knowledge and when not to do so.

There are many things you can do with a personality test that will give you bad results over the long term, even if those same things worked in the short term. Human beings are notoriously difficult to classify into rigid groupings, whether you are talking about a dozen hunter gatherers living in a rain forest, or 500 programmers working in a sky scraper in New York City. While you can easily create a mental model of the world that works more than half the time, it’s very difficult to create one that works ninety percent of the time, and impossible to create one that does so every time. Further, another issue rears its ugly head – when you classify people and tell them about it, most of them don’t like it very much. In short, if you think any of this stuff is ever going to give you a full explanation of what someone did, full foresight into what they might do, and a perfect understanding of the reasons why, you are sorely mistaken.

That doesn’t make a system like the enneagram useless, however. It just means you have to look at things differently. You have to shift your approach so that your mental model is constantly being tested and refined, use the system to improve yourself (instead of trying to control others), and to use the tool to have better interactions with others. Such a system is more useful than one that attempts to offer perfect understanding and predictions, because it actually works in the real world.

The enneagram can be a useful tool, provided that you understand what it is intended to provide and what it is not. Used properly, it can give you a better mental model when working with other people, when trying to improve yourself, or when adding members to your team. However, it is not a panacea and has limited capability when you try to use it for prediction, fixing other people, or for dealing with bad behavior by yourself and others. Like any tool, it has its strengths and weaknesses and you’ll find that you need to apply it before you really grasp what they are.

Episode Breakdown

It’s a model of clusters of behavior, not a predictive algorithm

You will not be able to accurately and consistently predict others’ behavior based on their type. It’s good for analysis after the fact and for refining your feedback loops to handle things better next time. It’s not even a good predictor of your own behavior – again it’s a retrospective and feedback loop tool, not a predictive one. You can tell yourself all day that you will respond as healthy person of your enneagram type in a particular situation, but you might not be in a good head space at the time, or you may be in a group of people whose behavior trends in a different direction.

Categorization helps you make sense of the world, but it isn’t going to work perfectly

There is a woo-woo aspect to this that is similar to astrology. Remember that people don’t necessarily fit categories in a neat, just so, kind of way, or at least they don’t with any real fidelity. The point of categorization is to give you words for things, not to give you things. Be careful not to mistake categorization for the contents of the category. So it would be ok to say “I don’t work well with sevens and I need to fix that”, but it isn’t useful to say “sevens don’t work well with me and here’s how they can fix it”.

This is probably more useful turned inward than turned outward, at least for a while, for personal development.

Accept that your locus of control is on yourself, not on others, even if they report to you. Resist the urge to “fix” other people, even if they ask you. Using the enneagram to improve yourself is also faster than trying to improve other people and has a better chance of actually working. If you improve yourself enough, other people will ask about it. Then you can help them improve themselves.

You can’t type people based on results – you type them based on motivation.

This means that reactive typing of someone based on an incident has a high chance of being wrong. This is especially true because people’s motives are not always particularly obvious, even though you can often guess.

There are successful people, abject failures, monsters, and saints in any group. Those are results, but the motivations for wildly disparate outcomes can be the same and the motivations for the same outcome can by wildly disparate. It’s also important at this point to realize that if you do think you’ve figured out someone’s motivation, saying something to them about it won’t help. You can, however, use this knowledge to help motivate people or to make them more comfortable.

The Enneagram doesn’t excuse bad behavior

Just because you took a personality test that told you that your personality type has some downsides, doesn’t mean that you are off the hook for any problems those downsides happen to cause. Rather, the goal of tools like the Enneagram is to help you detect when and where you might start having problems, in an effort to mitigate those problems.

You also shouldn’t let other people off the hook for their behavior just because they happen to be of a certain type. It may help you see when something is about to go wrong, but it is not an excuse for someone acting out. It goes without saying that the good things you do also aren’t determined by your enneagram type. Own you victories when you have them.

It also doesn’t work for weaponizing against others.

If you do manage to figure out what Enneagram type someone is, be careful how you use that information. In particular, you should probably avoid making disparaging remarks about other Enneagram types, or loudly attributing someone’s behavior to that type. There likely will be one or more enneagram types that you dislike (or can’t understand well). Bear in mind that this includes not only the enneagram type, but probably also includes how that type behaves when unhealthy and the unhealthy behavior of other types that resembles the type you dislike.

For instance, let’s say that you dislike type 4s. You might also dislike healthy 2s and unhealthy 1s because their direction of integration (or disintegration) points towards enneagram type 4. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid those types of people – it means you should figure out why they bother you and what a better response would look like.

It does clue you in on what your potential strengths and weaknesses are, as well as those of others.

While the map is not the territory, it can inform you about the territory so that you can find your way around. The Enneagram is a map of how your motivations might influence your behavior, along with what those behavioral influences mean. If, for instance, you find that your behavior is starting to trend towards something that is unhealthy for your Enneagram type, the enneagram can be a good heuristic for figuring this out. It can also suggest things that you should do in order to fix it.

Similarly, if you know what someone’s Enneagram type is and you are in a position to decide what work they will be doing, you will probably keep them happier for longer if you assign them work that plays to their strengths while avoiding things that push them in an unhealthy direction.

You have to deal with a loss of precision when using a heuristic like this.

you have x% chance of being right about their type, y% chance of being right about their motivations and z% chance of telling how it is going to impact other people. Your odds of being right are (x*y*z) / (100^3) percent at BEST. While this is better than zero if you are often right, it will never be anywhere close to 100%. It may help you reason about some situations (or know what questions to ask), but it should never be used in lieu of proper information gathering.

This means that if you are making plans with the assumption that someone will enjoy a particular task because they are of a certain enneagram type, you need to plan out what happens if you are wrong. You have to begin to embrace more of a probabilistic approach to your thinking, rather than a more easily predictable linear one.

The enneagram is useful when applied to individuals, but you can learn a lot about what happens when it is applied to groups.

In a team environment, the way different Enneagram types tend to interact is very instructive. In particular, the Enneagram can help you find which people will work well together or who will have complementary strengths.

The way that you compose teams based on the Enneagram will vary based on what you are trying to do. You might want everyone to be of complementary types in an engineering team that needs to quickly release a product. On the other hand, if you want a long-term stable team dynamic that is able to adapt to marketplace changes over the long term, you may want to diversify a bit more.

Wings will probably help you more than the broader Enneagram types.

Not only are the wings a bit more specific, but they also cover a lot more of the gray areas. This gets even more interesting when you include the interactions between wings.

You should also consider the way that unhealthy members of a particular type will interact with the rest of the team. You can build the best team in the world with the assumption that everyone will remain healthy, but if you don’t consider what happens when they become unhealthy, your team will be unstable. Adjacent wings often work well together, but there can be a lot of friction in the areas where they work differently.

Tricks of the Trade

Just like your number or type on the Enneagram doesn’t define who you are, neither does your job, your house, your hobbies, or even your spouse. It can be very easy for us to allow things like our relationships or our job status to define who we are. Those things don’t always last and when they are gone you may find yourself not knowing who you are. If you have children and define yourself by being a parent, when your kids do grow up and move out of the house you’ll not know who you are. Take some time to figure yourself out and let that be the core of who you are. It will shine through in all the roles you take on whether that be as a parent, developer, or even photographer.

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