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Enneagram: A Useful Self-Awareness Tool
A map of 9 interconnected personality types that highlights our strengths and limitations. By Benjamin Tan
I always thought the movie Mean Girls was not just funny, but a sharp-witted commentary on cliques in high schools. Even more impressive was how the script was adapted by Tina Fey from a self-help book – Queen Bees and Wannabes – and not a novel.
In an early scene, new student Cady Heron (played by Lindsay Lohan) is introduced to her peers at North Shore High School by Janice Ian via a hand drawn map:
“This map is going to be your guide to North Shore…you got everybody there. You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, J.V. jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don't eat anything, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks, the greatest people you will ever meet and the worst. Beware of Plastics”
That map divides the students into a collection of over-the-top and oh-so-wrong stereotypes: varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, desperate wannabes, and so on. You get the picture. Janice Ian would get so cancelled today if that map had gone viral. Nevertheless, in the movie, categorizing the North Shore folks into various tribes, albeit politically incorrect, does help Heron make sense of her peers. It works because Heron starts observing her social boundaries – as defined in the map – and finds her rhythm.
Making Sense of Complexities Through Clustering
We are often told that stereotyping is bad. Humans are unique, and we need to honor individuality. Our world, however, is organized (and recorded) based on categories: nationalities, ethnicities, educational qualifications, professions, political affiliations, religions, and so on. When joining any new establishment, club, or seeking new opportunities – professional, financial, political, or social – individuals often provide a litany of information that helps administrators (or more likely, algorithms these days) infer everything, from job suitability and romantic matchmaking to credit worthiness and likelihood of terrorism, based on some commonalities displayed by historical patterns.
Grouping helps humans make sense of the world because it simplifies and systematizes information to fit better with the rational part of our brains. Organization by clusters helps us recall, identify, predict, and respond better, hence giving us a greater sense of clarity. Without it, we would be overwhelmed by randomness and discombobulated information.
The Enneagram: Guide to Human Nature?
What if, instead of a map of the school cafeteria to navigate North Shore High School in Mean Girls, we were given an equivalent guide to understanding human nature? Imagine possessing an intuitive, conceptual framework that helps us understand and respond better to the complexities of people. A map that goes beyond observable human behaviors, by providing rich insights into underlying motivations organized by personality types.
Enter the Enneagram.
The Enneagram is a model of nine interconnected archetypical personalities, as represented by nine equidistant points on the circumference of an Enneagram circle. Instead of “desperate wannabes” and “sexually active band geeks”, we now have Enneagram types identified by neutral numerals, from Type One (Perfectionist) to Type Nine (Peacemaker).
As a believer in self-help, I have found the Enneagram to be useful for my self-awareness. I took an accreditation course to improve my understanding of the theory. It is a fascinating subject. The Enneagram system offers one of the best psychological frameworks for introspection because it looks beneath the surface of human manners to explore the underbellies. By dividing personalities into distinct archetypes, it also allows for easier recognition of self and others. The theory has risen in popularity in recent years, enjoying both increasing scientific validations and expanding use cases. Major corporations such as Boeing (BA 0.00%↑), Google (GOOG 0.00%↑), and Microsoft (MSFT 0.00%↑) are using the Enneagram as part of their employee training to extract higher productivity and foster teamwork.
The Enneagram has highlighted some of my pitfalls as an investor. As a Type Five, I have learnt to lean harder into diversification and open-mindedness while managing my portfolio, as counterbalance against my natural tendencies to withdraw into my own mental models. The theory has also helped me recognize behavioral patterns in my personal life and relationships with others.
In the coming weeks, I shall be writing more on this subject, and how the Enneagram theory can be applied to investing.
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