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The Enneagram: Where Personality Meets Plot

“You’re a Seven,” Lori said. “You have to be a seven.” 

I had been working with Lori for less than a month. Dave and I had flown into Cincinnati to meet her, me from California and Dave from Florida. I was slightly out of my comfort zone, but Dave might as well have been on the moon. 

“Why does he get two more than me?” Dave asked Lori, after she declared him a Five on the Enneagram, a word that he had just heard for the first time, though Lori had been batting it my way for a couple of weeks.  

“Seven isn’t better,” Lori explained to Dave. “There are nine personality types. Fives are Investigators and Sevens are Enthusiasts.” 

“Sounds about right,” he grunted.  

Lori promised to buy me a book all about the Enneagram, but I took my first test online later that day, curious to see how close the description of Sevens came to my  self-image. 

According to the Enneagram Institute, Sevens: 

  • Are extroverted, optimistic, versatile, and spontaneous. I’m an ambivert, but play one hell of an extrovert. My sister says that one of my super powers is “making lemonade out of expired Crystal Light packets.” I can juggle a dozen incredibly-varied projects without dropping a single ball. And when it comes to spontaneity, my life for a long time was like an endless round of improv, with me saying “Yes, and …” to whatever came my way. 
  • Constantly seek new experiences. I write in every possible format and genre that lands in my path, not only to push myself, but because it keeps me engaged, boosting the quality of my work.
  • Typically have problems with impulsiveness and impatience. I experimented with approximately 2,741 business models before realizing it was best to stay in my zones of excellence, and was often impulsive when starting something new, and impatient when the results were slow to come. 
  • Are enthusiastic about almost everything that catches their attention. I have been referred to as having a golden retriever personality more times than I can count, but considering the way I love fetching ideas, the comparison is fitting.
  • Approach life with curiosity, optimism, and a sense of adventure. I’ve always read books before I could truly understand them (starting with The Hobbit at six years old and Stephen King and Peter Straub’s Talisman at eight). My entire life has been fueled by an unbridled belief in the magic lying just past the next horizon.
  • Are bold and vivacious, pursuing what they want in life with a cheerful determination — they have a quality best described by the Yiddish word ‘chutzpah’ — a brash ‘nerviness.’ From buying my first flower cart when I was eighteen years old to starting a publishing company with no industry experience, each chutzpah-driven step has turned obstacles into stepping stones on the way to my dreams, while leaving a trail of innovation and inspiration for others to follow.
  • Gifted at brainstorming and synthesizing information. I come up with one new story idea every day for our studio Garden, and it’s a running joke in the studio that everyone takes a drink whenever I say “I have an idea …”
  • Prefer broad overviews and the excitement of the initial stages of the creative process to probing a single topic in depth. One of the best things about collaboration for me is the ability to pass a big idea off to a partner who loves digging into the details of a project and putting flesh on the bones of a skeletal concept — leaving me free to move on to the next blinking lightbulb over my head.
  • Can misapply their talents, becoming over-extended, scattered, and undisciplined. I feel called out by this one, but it’s totally true. I’ve knocked these bad habits off one at a time, getting my discipline in check first many years ago, then training myself to focus, and only now am I effectively hacking away at that “being overextended” crap.I’ve also taken a vow never to make blinds in Manila again.

I’ve never actually made blinds in Manila, but that is the name that Johnny gave to my rather consistent behavior (at the time) of wanting to get involved with businesses that could very well be profitable, but were decisively out of our lane. The phrase was born after I returned from a mastermind and pitched a subscription box business, where we would write stories around products, because I had met a guy who was a wizard at finding white-label shit to sell on Amazon. But the harder I tried to sell Johnny on the idea, the more frustrated he got, until he finally said, “Yeah, we could do that. We could also make blinds in Manila — but that doesn’t mean we should.

The most fascinating thing about the Enneagram to me is the range that each archetype encompasses. Even if all Sevens were created equal, our varied responses to life’s stimuli largely shapes who we become. When operating at a healthy level, Sevens can “easily become accomplished achievers, generalists who do many different things well: multi-talented. Practical, productive, usually prolific, cross-fertilizing areas of interest.” 

But Sevens are also susceptible to selfishness, and can “get into conspicuous consumption and all forms of excess. Self-centered, materialistic, and greedy, never feeling that they have enough. Demanding and pushy, yet unsatisfied and jaded. Addictive, hardened, and insensitive.” 

At their most flawed, Sevens can get caught up in a self-destructive cycle, where “their energy and health is completely spent: they may become claustrophobic and panic-stricken. Often give up on themselves and life: deep depression and despair, self-destructive overdoses, impulsive suicide. Generally corresponds to the Bipolar disorder and Histrionic personality disorder.”

My mom is a fellow Seven, and an unapologetic hoarder. You can see the mountains of crap in her backyard from space on Google Earth. Yes, that’s a joke, but it’s also totally true. I share these tendencies, and find myself almost overcorrecting as I get older, to the point where I’m now almost a minimalist. I used to own thousands of DVDs, now I own zero. 

It was fascinating to see that spectrum within my personality type, and I could clearly recognize how each of the levels degraded into the next. Because the assessment also made sense with other people I know, Sevens specifically. Like my mom. 

The Enneagram became my favorite personality test in no time, and I’ve used it for everything from developing audience avatars and characters for my fiction to growing myself as a person.

I love the Enneagram because it goes beyond surface-level traits to focus on the core motivations, fears, and desires that drive our behavior. This assessment doesn’t put people in boxes; it acknowledges that we all view the world through different lenses. 

Ever since Lori called me out as an unapologetic Seven, I’ve used the Enneagram as a tool to understand myself. 

Flash forward 13 years. 

“You’re a Seven,” Chandler said. “You have to be a Seven.” 

Niamh and I were having dinner at Jack Allen’s with our new friend, Chandler. She was in the bathroom while he and I bid our adioses outside. 

“Did I miss anything?” Niamh asked me as we walked toward our cars. 

“Only that I’m a Seven on the Enneagram. Chandler’s an Eight, with a Seven wing.” 

I bet you’re a three, I thought.  

Threes are Achievers. And Niamh’s constant push to be the best version of herself that she can be, along with her love of helping others achieve their best selves too, fits the description of a Three to a tee.

“I’ve heard I’m a three,” she said. 

The next day Niamh slacked me in laughter. Not only did she feel as called out by her number as I had by mine all those years ago, she went one further step and looked to see how Sevens and Threes worked together. 

Again from the Enneagram Institute, both types

  • Are self-assertive, have high energy, and are outgoing and capable of being around people with relative ease. 
  • Bring optimism, a future orientation, the sense of possibility and renewal to their relationships and to enterprises they become involved with. 
  • Are persuasive and articulate. 
  • Have a youthful orientation such that they feed off of each other’s energy.

It is our job to be high-energy and likable on our general meetings, because people doing business with partners they like. This comes relatively easy for us, and we both love looking into the future, though Niamh prefers to peek around the next corner while I’m always playing truth or dare with our horizon. 

During Sterling & Stone’s period of rather explosive growth over the last two years, Niamh and I have had to navigate some choppy waters, but we’ve been able to do it in lockstep the entire time. From finances to project management, whenever one if us is overwhelmed, we work as a team to articulate an appropriate solution or solutions, then whichever of us is best positioned to see the forest through the trees persuades the other one. 

And they each offer unique benefits to the relationship: 

  • Threes bring a sense of propriety, appropriateness, and social conventions, as well as the ability to focus on goals and get them accomplished. 
  • Sevens bring a sense of fun and adventure, resilience, and not being overly concerned with failure, spontaneous in ways that help more self-conscious Threes. 
  • Threes focus on goals, staying practical and grounded, and observing healthy limits.
  • Sevens bring breadth of knowledge and experience, with boundless enthusiasm.

Whether we are in general meetings with a production company, client calls, or Umbrellas with our storytellers, Niamh’s laser-focused ambition meets my boundless enthusiasm for effective yet exhilarating communication. 

Our partnership was already a dynamic duo of enthusiastic ambition, but embracing these insights can offer us a roadmap to significantly amplify our effectiveness together over the long-term.

The Enneagram is a powerful tool for storytelling entrepreneurs. By understanding my own motivations, fears, and desires, I’ve been able to navigate life with greater clarity, purpose, and joy. That goes for all my roles: father, husband, CEO, creator, and human.  

Whether you’re a Seven like me, a Three like Niamh, or one of the other seven types, the Enneagram offers a path to deeper self-awareness, more fulfilling relationships, and a greater mastery of what makes your characters tick.

If you’d like to dig into the nuances of the Enneagram, either for personal growth or to enrich your storytelling, The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson is an invaluable resource, with detailed insights into each type for a profound understanding of the core motivations, fears, and desires that drive our behaviors and shape our lives.

For writers aiming to craft more nuanced and believable characters, Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s Believable Characters: Creating With Enneagram is Bonnie’s favorite. The book bridges the gap between understanding oneself and translating that knowledge into the complex, compelling characters that populate our stories, including detailed breakdowns of how each character type engages in conflict with all the others.

And for those on a journey toward self-understanding and personal growth, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile offers a highly accessible and engaging exploration of the Enneagram types. Perfect for beginners and seasoned enthusiasts alike, presenting the wisdom of the Enneagram in a way that’s easy to understand and apply to daily life.

What I love most about the Enneagram, and why I hope it will work wonders for you, is that it’s both about understanding who we are, and who we’re capable of becoming.