Why we don’t learn

The No Child Left Behind legislation “has turned out to be the worst federal education legislation every passed. (NY Review of books, Dec 24, 2011). The reason it is so bad is that it  is scientific and objective. The New York Times article assessing the objectivity says “Claims of “objective” and “scientific” always occur within contextual and cultural assumptions even as both depend on a faith in their NOT being contextualized to garner their power.”
Our enneagram style is one context that frames all our “facts.” This Christmas season, families will get together and solemnly and silently agree not to talk about certain things because their frames are different enough so that civil conversation is nearly impossible. Every fact has a (usually unacknowledged or unrecognized) context that makes claims of “scientific” or “objective” somewhat precarious.  Arguments are often frame clashes more than any exchange of information.
So when we coach, the enneagram is enormously helpful because it describes an interior world that is an important context.


Artificial intelligence has one major problem that has prevented much headway – yet. The computer, when faced with real life problems, doesn’t distinguish between information that is influential and information that is extraneous. They call this problem, the “Frame problem.” Humans select from a bewildering array of data and select some and reject most others. In conversation, one might ignore ceiling heights, time of day, color of tile etc etc.
This selectivity comes at a cost. We decide too quickly and confidently what information is important.  This isn’t an either/or importance; it is more like a graded valuation of whatever we encounter.  We see what we look for and prize what we find.

Our Enneagram style is one of our crucial frames. Widening, softening, altering with unaccustomed information – these are all ways of becoming healthier, wiser and happier. We don’t get rid of the initial frame, but we work valiantly at weakening its exclusivity and narrowness.

Philosophy and style

Our men’s study group tackled Ayn Rand the other day. She is highly influential: Clarence Thomas, Paul Ryan (architect of the Republican budget) and others require their staffs to study her. Allan Greenspan was a member of her salon. So her philosophy lives on in her disciples. As we discussed her philosophy of selfishness (her term) in Atlas Shrugged it became clear that she is an Enneagram style One. The low sides of style One were evident: literal thinking, black and white opinions, the division into good and bad (good and bad ideas, good and bad people, good and bad social structures and in her other book, The Fountainhead, good and bad architecture), scorn for sensual weakness with back door indulgence of same and an unnerving conviction that not only is she right, but she is totally right.
It was remarkable how her philosophy was a clear elaboration of her ego structure. I was not surprised, tho. In the history of philosophy it is surprisingly easy to identify the enneagram style from the philosophy. For the high side of style one, read Emmanuel Kant, the German philosopher whose works are cherished by anyone studying ethics.

Why we do

A group of boys decided to harass a man in the neighborhood by playing very noisily in his yard. The man was really irritated so he went out and told the boys he enjoyed their playing so much he gave them a dollar. They were delighted so they came back a second day. This time he gave them only fifty cents. They played again. On the 3rd day he refused to pay them anything so they said they would not play for nothing and quit playing in his yard.
A new book, “You are not so smart,” (thanks for the tip, Rich Litvin) describes how if we get paid for doing something we often lose interest even if it is something we originally loved. So much for the promise most coaches make, “Make money doing what you love!” Apparently what happens is what they call “overjustification.” If we get too much of extrinsic motivation, it weakens our intrinsic pleasure.

If you are a coach and are interested in creativity, I recommend a new e-letter by my friend, Peleg. Check it out at hello@pelegtop.com It is a new e letter. If it is of the same quality as his coaching work it should be superb!


As the Republican campaign forges onward, the pressure is bringing out Enneagram styles, as pressure brings out our defenses. (One way to discern an Enneagram style is to find out how we behave under pressure. ) So now it is clearer that Michelle Bachmann is a Six (I’ve written on this previously), Trump is an 8, and Gingrich is in the middle, a clear Seven. Gingrich is admired or scorned for his ability and willingness to spin, but Enneagram students know that reframing – the ultimate spin – is the strength and downfall of style Seven. He also has a bit of a commitment problem with three serial wives and several adulterous affairs.
Obama is a Nine, slow to shift his approach, more laid back than his party likes and constantly trying to get bi-partisan support while commentators on both sides assume and assert that this is an impossible dream. But it is his dream. If it looks like he will lose the election, that might be enough of a threat to put him into a combat mode. If he does take action, he has a One wing and will try for the moral high ground. Gingrich will not intuitively go for the high ground morally, instead he will, as a Seven, assert that his ideas are intellectually superior.

Isolate and integerate

Our enneagram style can often be doing badly and unconsciously something that we can learn to do elegantly. For example, a Four can feel sorry for himself and recite lamentations about his misery. If when he does this, he pays attention to what he laments and decides to focus his actions on eradicating his misery in specific ways, he can then articulate the misery he feels in such a way that he can also articulate the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that others have to endure. This may move him from self-pity to authentic compassion. The first step is becoming conscious of precisely what he laments, the second is focused action that deals with his and others’ grievances.  The pain underlying his natural lament is what will enable him to be sensitive to the pain of others.

American culture

A coach has to understand the cultural pressures the client (and coach) face. Most corporations have a strong, largely unhealthy, Three culture. It shows up in a way that many Threes manifest –a mechanical view of life. Corporations assume that people are interchangeable — and that is the essence of a machine. In a machine, I like interchangeability. When I get my old Ford truck fixed, I want Ford parts – they interchange perfectly. But are accounts, salespeople, secretaries, managers equally interchangeable? Nope.
Even more pernicious is the belief that a human can work at the same level of competence at 10 hours than she can for three. Employees are equally seduced by the culture — they think they can ignore rest or nutrition or sunlight or bodily rhythms or emotional turbulence and maintain good work. They can’t and a coach should explore how well any client takes care of her body, again, especially Threes.
I seldom unreservedly recommend books, but Tony Schwartz’s The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working is a powerful testimony to the importance of working in a corporation and respecting your body. We are animals!