Exploring the Enneagram

It seems that some ideas just resonate with people, regardless of their origin. Sometimes a concept just makes intuitive sense, just feels right, and you can invest in it without a huge amount of data.

I think part of the reason that Carl Jung is still such an influential figure – not just in psychology, but in storytelling, in art, in business training – is that his theories strike a chord with us. A lot of them just seem to feel correct, at least at a conceptual level.

Without scientific rigor, however, it can be dangerous to rely on intuition too much. An interesting theory might sound right, but without research to back it up it can be difficult to justify your conclusions. Jung himself wanted to be considered a man of science. His residing reputation as a bit of a mystic might have disappointed him, and I think it has more to do with the simplicity and inclusiveness of some of his theories rather than his personal beliefs.

Jung also had a bit of an uphill climb in terms of method. Most of his work is based on personal case studies and anecdotal evidence. Nowadays that would be an unacceptable basis for any serious scientific study, but we should cut Jung some slack. There really wasn’t any other way of doing things, especially at the start of his career. Remember that Jung and his contemporaries were basically inventing a new discipline as they went along, so there wasn’t much supportive data around to use. Without widespread telephones, without computers and the internet, without even a reliable manner to keep in swift correspondence with other scientists and thinkers, Jung was forced to rely on his own observations from a limited field. The fact that his theories are still in use today – and the fact that several key areas of the Lumina mandala are based on his work – is a testament to how far-sighted and shrewd his original work was.

The Enneagram is not a Jungian design, but it shows some strong similarities with his work. It’s a method of exploring personality ‘types,’ and what’s interesting to me is that those types aren’t necessarily rigid: although you are assigned only one, you can lean towards others based on your levels of stress. It’s not really used in psychology but is occasionally used by trainers and facilitators in business development, so I think it’s worth taking a look at.

The Enneagram looks like this:

You'll see that each of the 9 types links with two others.

Each of the nine personality types is given a label, but because there are so many different uses and interpretations of the Enneagram there seem to be a LOT of different labels. There’s some correlation between them but many of the different terms seem to reflect the value judgements of the user. I think it’s fair to change or update labels as time goes by – especially when the meaning behind such labels can shift quite independently from the model itself – but I found it hard to pick a definitive list, so I’m just going to copy the one on Wikipedia (this is a screengrab, head to this page to see the list in its original form):

 

 

What’s interesting to me about this diagram are the last two columns. They indicate how the personality type assigned to you by the Enneagram might morph under stress or security. You aren’t completely fixed in your personality, you can shift depending on circumstances. The stress/security axis has obvious similarities with Lumina Spark’s ideas of the underlying persona and the over-extended persona. Some (but not all) users of the Enneagram also state that an individual’s personality type is affected by the two adjacent types on the model. These extra points are often called ‘wings,’ and again could be compared with the Lumina model: traits that are similar or complementary are arranged next to each other on the mandala.

So it seems like the Enneagram could be a useful companion tool for Lumina, or that Lumina Spark might be a good way of expanding the knowledge and awareness of people who are already familiar with the Enneagram. There is, however, at least one thing that makes me hesitate.

Although the different types on the Enneagram make sense, it’s difficult to see how they’ve come up with the arrangement. Why do some relate to each other, and not others? Why are they arranged in this order in the first place?

The development of the Enneagram is a bit of a mystery. There are several credited sources, but not a lot of data as to how the labels came about, or how their arrangement was finalised. It’s all very intuitive, but it’s also very open to interpretation.

How do we know that type 1 is related to types 4 and 7? What evidence is there for this arrangement? You could probably make a strong argument for it, but you could make an equally valid argument for 3, in my opinion. There’s no data to support any findings.

Interpretation is fine, especially if you’re just using the Enneagram as a learning tool, but if I want to make any concrete suggestions I’d prefer to have some information to support my findings.

It wouldn’t be hugely difficult to match up at least some of the Enneagram with Lumina Spark. Type number 9, for example, is definitely Green archetype, People-Focussed aspect. But moving on from there is a little more difficult. The complimentary traits of Lumina are based on rigorous data testing. It’s easy to prove which traits match up and which ones don’t, as we have thousands of real data points to compare.

So while we can predict what a personality might do under stress (again based on real-world data), we’d rather just measure what that personality does, rather than try and extrapolate.

The Enneagram is an engaging tool, and I had some fun learning about it. But like the intuitive judgements of Carl Jung, it has been challenged by more modern data, and is in need of an update. I think Jung would have been proud of how far his theories have been adopted, but I don’t think he would have had a problem with applying some rigorous testing to them, and only making further points based on what can be proved. He was a man of science, after all.

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