Enneagram: Berghoef & Bell Innovations

Leadership. Communication. Teamwork.

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Modernizing the Enneagram

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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Meeting the Instinctual Needs of Different Organizations

IMG_20150619_213544Working with different organizations is a fascinating study in contrasts. Moving from one group to another, we’ve witnessed focuses and needs that required vastly different approaches.

The Enneagram’s Instincts are a useful model for understanding the priorities and needs of organizations as well as individuals. The Instincts represent unconscious drives, or groups of related behaviors, that seek to get our core needs met. They are a more fundamental part of the way we work than personality type, and can be viewed as an independent mini-typology. People of each personality type can be driven by each of the three Instincts. We share all three, but they are present in individuals and groups to varying degrees, with one running the show and shaping core values.

Different dominant Instincts in organizations call for different approaches. Here are three case studies from our teaching to demonstrate what each Instinct looks like as a dominant focus in organizations, and to share ideas about how to meet the needs of these different types of groups.


A group we worked with recently was dominated by the concerns and energy of the Social Instinct, which is focused on navigating community dynamics. A non-profit that exists to serve the needs of a marginalized community, its team members are a good mix of members of that community and external advocates. When we walked through the door, we saw people milling around, checking in with each other. The room buzzed with talk. It was clear from the way people interacted, before and during our workshop, that inclusion was a priority.

Unsurprisingly for this organization, the workshop we’d been invited to teach focused on communication; it became clear that this group had brought us in to meet Social Instinct needs. We took our cues from the group and focused on creating avenues for engagement. We prioritized group activities that facilitated understanding between members, and left the floor open for lots of questions and discussion.


After working with that lively group, the next one came as a bit of a surprise. This organization was focused on holistic health and wellness, and the physical space reflected that philosophy. Soft colors abounded, and rooms were spacious. Our point person was ready to attend to any physical needs our presentation involved, from tweaking the air conditioning to making sure we had writing supplies. We’d arrived in a headquarters dominated by the Self-Preservation Instinct, which is focused on preserving stability, well-being, and resources.

The people at our workshop seemed as mellow as the space. They were quiet, composed, and moved with deliberation. It soon became clear that they wanted a workshop that matched the organization’s stabilizing values. They prioritized comfort in their space, so we moderated things like temperature and seating, striving to make sure the group was comfortable. In our activities, we focused on mindfulness, giving participants time to relax and ground themselves.

Transmitting / Sexual

Another organization was interested in a growth-oriented workshop. As with the previous group, the environment was beautiful, but in a more attention-grabbing way. Both the space and the people shone with rich colors and decorations, and the group actively sought a non-traditional approach. This organization’s dominant influence is often called the Sexual Instinct in relationships or personal work, as it’s the drive behind reproduction. Transmitting is a more accurate description of this Instinct’s role in organizations, since it drives them to bring information, services, products, or messages into the world.

The group was enthusiastic and honed in on us as speakers. They wanted a workshop that would push them to see themselves more clearly and make changes. Picking up on this Transmitting group’s driven energy, we worked on making our material and delivery fresh and exciting to keep their attention. We brought in innovative approaches and engaged with the group’s focused follow-up questions as they sought to know more.

Think about the groups or teams that you’re a part of. Which Instinct runs the show for each one? What needs and strengths do these dominant Instincts present in the groups you know best?

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Why We Teach the Enneagram

IMG_20141011_184042Whenever we stand in front of a class and introduce the basics of personality types or communication styles, people’s expressions shift. We catch knowing looks and whispers. Someone might identify a type Eight boss, and express relief at learning how to get along with her. Another participant might connect with the Soloist communication style, and find the value in his way of thinking acknowledged for the first time in his professional life. With the Enneagram, we’ve discovered that a little understanding goes a long way.

Enneagram workshops act as a contained study space for the complexity of human beings. Participants learn ways to understand and communicate with important people in their lives without having those people singled out. They also have the opportunity to investigate their habits, desires, and defenses in the context of a time-limited workshop. Often they get a glimpse of their reactions in action. Many such glimpses build our capacity to notice when we’re getting in our own way and allow ourselves more flexibility to make different choices next time.

We teach the Enneagram because we’ve seen the power of this flexibility. Discovering our motivations has made it easier to catch ourselves acting out bad habits and think, “Wait a minute…” Knowing our loved ones’ and colleagues’ personality types has allowed us to understand where they are coming from and strengthen our relationships. When used wisely, for growth and understanding rather than self-limitation or stereotyping, the Enneagram’s psychological acuity allows for improved – and sometimes transformed – interactions.

What could our world look like if it was full of such interactions? What would it be like if people went the extra mile to understand each other? Whenever someone acted out, the people around them would look beyond the behavior to the underlying motive, which is always a deep human need, and think about how this need might be met. Imagine how job satisfaction would increase if this became a workplace policy!

Difference would be valued and commonality recognized, in both businesses and communities. Instinct, emotion, and intellect would be valued and cultivated equally; multiple intelligences, personality patterns, and cognitive profiles would be nurtured. All manifestations of the human spirit would be welcomed to take their place.

In their personal and professional lives, people would approach conflict strategically, transparently, and seeking a win-win. Time with others would be engaged, inclusive, and joyful, and time with yourself would be respected and cherished. Everyone would be supported in caring for their well-being, striving toward new frontiers, and contributing to the larger community.

The Enneagram points to these possibilities. It illuminates dynamics that usually remain hidden, and uncovers things that are lacking and needed in any given place and time. The knowledge that there’s something more going on under every action makes us think. It calls us to be just a little more open and dig just a little bit deeper every time.

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5 Benefits of Learning from a Certified (or Accredited) Enneagram Teacher

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe always believed certification to be important in the Enneagram profession, which is why we actively pursued it from the time we decided to teach. After years of hard work, we recently became Riso-Hudson Certified Enneagram Teachers, and would recommend certification or accreditation to aspiring Enneagram professionals. While not all good Enneagram teachers are certified, we’ve found learning from a certified or accredited Enneagram teacher to be a good bet. Here are 5 reasons why:

1. Certified teachers have studied the Enneagram in depth. Certifying involves taking a series of trainings that convey the material both intellectually and experientially.

2. Certified teachers have proven their abilities. In addition to coursework, most Enneagram certification programs require additional work, such as essays, typing interviews, panels, and teaching demos. We found completing our certification essays to be as educational as taking the trainings, offering us greater insight into the Enneagram and inspiring our own research.

3. It’s easy to learn in detail about a certified teacher’s background. If they are certified by a particular school or program, you can easily learn the specifics of their certification process. This assists in understanding the teacher’s approach and seeing if it’s a good fit for you.

4. Certified and accredited teachers bring credibility to the Enneagram field. There is no title protection for Enneagram teachers, and anybody can offer their services as an Enneagram teacher, coach, or consultant. Learning from a certified teacher helps create and maintain standards in the profession.

5. There’s an amazing array of high-quality certified Enneagram teachers and programs. We chose to do our training at The Enneagram Institute, but there are many wonderful schools. From corporate training to somatic focusing, there’s an application–and a certified/accredited teacher–for everyone!

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The Enneagram and Young Adults

P1020354When we first began attending Enneagram conferences, we were surprised to discover that young adults studying the Enneagram were almost as rare as unicorns! We’d love for that to change, and hope to bring more young people into the community. We were both lucky to discover the Enneagram at a young age, and it offered a level of support that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. It was like having a secret key to unlocking our strengths and understanding other people.

Young people face a lot of challenges. At that age, so many of us feel misunderstood and like we don’t fit in. We get into conflict with our parents. We struggle to find our footing as we first strike out on our own. The Enneagram can be useful in all of these situations.

Young people offer a fresh perspective to Enneagram work. They bring a wonderful openness to learning (as long as it’s interesting!). They’re in a great place to start observing themselves and noticing what their usual patterns are, laying a foundation for a self-aware life. Given the ever-shifting nature of the young adult years, they’re also in a place where they want to make change.

Here are some tips for teaching the Enneagram to young people:

  • Contextualize the Enneagram to the person’s age group. For example, if they’re in college, show them how the Enneagram can help them choose a major and make empowering career decisions.
  • Introduce the idea of observing yourself and being aware of your patterns in an approachable, relatable way. Give concrete examples of how this can be helpful in your audience’s daily life.
  • Break the material up with interactive exercises, and give everyone a chance to speak.
  • Remember when working with younger people that the brain is still developing until about age 25, which may impact how they learn and apply the material.
  • Make it fun! 🙂

We’d like to see more people get the opportunity to learn the Enneagram at a young age, and are excited to be part of this movement!