Enneagram: Berghoef & Bell Innovations

Leadership. Communication. Teamwork.

Modernizing the Enneagram

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The Enneagram is a practical tool created from combining ancient wisdom teachings and contemporary psychology. Part of its appeal is the way it has stood the test of time. From its roots in the philosophies of the Desert Fathers and the Kabbalah, as well as its integration of newer psychological insights, modern students of the Enneagram have an eminently applicable system for understanding themselves and others, communicating, resolving conflicts, and working on themselves. Human nature has remained consistent over time, so it’s no surprise that a system rooted in long-standing wisdom traditions has a lot to offer us today.

The Enneagram of personality, as it is currently taught, is also old enough to have acquired its own history and tradition. Most teachers and students still consult classic Enneagram resources from a few decades ago, and there’s good reason for that. There’s nothing like the early works of Riso and Hudson, Palmer, Naranjo, and other Enneagram pioneers to give a sense of the system’s depth and intricacies. There are situations, however, where a modern update is called for in teaching and learning the Enneagram. The economy and job market have changed since the first Enneagram books were written. In our globalized world, we use forms of communication on a daily basis that would amaze even yesterday’s science fiction writers. It’s useful to have ways of teaching the Enneagram that reflect these new realities.

In our book The Modern Enneagram, we gave a lot of thought to bridging the gap between the Enneagram’s timeless insights and the interconnected world of today. Here are some principles we came up with for modernizing Enneagram work for contemporary audiences, while maintaining the essence of its teachings.

Adapt to a changing attention span.
People today are busy, with the constant buzz of smartphone alerts adding on to schedules full of work and family commitments. The ease of rapid communication means that we are expected to pay attention to more input, more quickly, for shorter amounts of time. A 2015 research study shows that the human attention span has fallen to about eight seconds. When introducing the Enneagram in a modern context, it’s helpful to offer a concise introduction that gets the point across and piques your audience’s interest. From there, you can ease students into more in-depth learning, but first it’s helpful to communicate why the Enneagram is worth their time.   

Use contemporary examples and case studies.
A lot of our favorite Enneagram books reference celebrities and pop culture from decades ago. If you’re introducing the Enneagram to newcomers, they may not be familiar with these examples, or they might find them hilariously dated. It’s helpful to find type examples from modern pop culture, which audiences can immediately relate to and younger students will recognize. Workplace and social realities have also changed since many Enneagram references came out. If you’re working with a group, address these changes and make a point of incorporating recent case studies to support the ideas you’re conveying. In our book, we included references to social media, dating apps, and modern workplace dynamics to keep the content relevant to readers’ lives.        

Take advantage of new ways of learning.
There are more ways of teaching and learning the Enneagram now than ever before. Some of the most popular Enneagram courses are now offered online, and you don’t have to travel to a workshop, or live in an area where one is convenient, to learn about the nine types in depth. There are Enneagram blogs, apps, and podcasts. While new ways of learning the Enneagram are proliferating, there’s still a lot of room for expansion. Consider ways you could reach a broader audience through the wide array of platforms available, and seek out people who want to learn what you have to teach. Don’t be afraid to incorporate new ways of learning into your in-person Enneagram work, too.        

The Enneagram has been around for a while now, and it continues to grow in popularity each year. With an eye to modern realities, it will continue to be a relevant and useful way of learning about ourselves and the people we interact with every day.

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