The Enneagram @ an Ad Agency or Web Dev

Why is it that the tics of personality that others share with you irritate you so much more than the ones they have that you don’t?

My workplace and personal relationships are a mixed bag of enneagram and Myers Briggs types. Whenever I get completely exasperated with someone, it’s almost always a Four or INFP acting out of the unhealthy side of their type.

I give everyone else a pass. The other Fours, I always feel like “Seriously? You could try harder to not do that. If I can get it together better than that, so could you.”

The problem with that logic is that (A) I don’t always get it together better than that, and (B) I have the advantage of having studied my own type. I’m acutely aware of its common quirks and misperceptions.  Most unhealthy behaviors that spring from personality type are unconscious, or at least mostly unconscious. Bringing that stuff up into awareness makes a difference.

One of my favorite little koans about the enneagram comes from Clarence Thomas, “You never get enough of what you don’t really want.”  Fours both love and hate themselves for being different, outside the mainstream, “special” (in both the positive and pejorative senses).

Fours often end up in creative jobs, because seeing things from a different perspective is one of the benefits of the type. But if you have to design or write or create something for “the masses,” it’s sometimes hard to make the best decisions, because sometimes the best decision is to do something recognizable and accessible. Fours hate, hate, HATE doing anything we don’t think is original. I’ve seen more than one Four since I started working in advertising who can’t understand why his or her awesome, mindblowingly unusual concepts never get picked. They keep creating unrelatable, abstruse stuff and forgetting that their job is to figure out creative ways to sell soap, not to figure out ways to show off how special they are.

I also see a lot of Threes in marketing and advertising. Threes are all about image and perception, so Threes and Fours working together in an agency can be a great collaboration. The Fours are emotionally invested in acting as if they could care less what others think of them and their work (despite being incredibly sensitive to criticism). The Threes are acutely aware of and invested in what other people think of them, and how the work reflects on their personal image. The Four will have to get over feeling like the Three is a shallow fake, and the Three will have to get over feeling like the Four is an oversensitive basket case. If they can learn to work together, they can often make a productive team. Threes can spot something that’s going to be popular a mile off, so they make a good reality check for creatives. The downside of a Three is that he or she will not hesitate to throw someone else under the nearest bus to protect his or her image. If you make an unhealthy Three look bad or lose face, they can completely freak out.

Twos can make amazing account reps, or they can make awful account reps.  It really depends on how healthy the Two is. Twos want to take care of people. They want to make everyone happy (so everyone will love them). Unlike Ones, they’re great at compromise. Often, too good at compromise; it’s incredibly difficult for a Two (or a Nine) to draw a line in the sand with a client or a creative, or any human being, and say “this is the point where we part ways.” No one will work harder to make sure the client is happy than a Two. Like the Hotel California, this could be heaven or this could be hell.

Ones are classic traffic managers and project coordinators.  Ones not only want to deal with all the details of organizing things and keeping them on track, they are deeply passionate about quality. Ones love them some checklists. They care intensely about things being done right.  If your agency has trouble keeping projects on time and in scope, a healthy One can immediately see how to get you back on track. The only caveat is that no type is more prone to perfectionism than One. A One who isn’t healthy can sometimes actually stop progress, because they don’t believe in “good enough” and they make the creatives and developers crazy demanding perfection.

Oddly enough, Nines are often in leadership positions in agencies and development companies, almost accidentally. Their biggest strength is in being likable and getting everyone else to get along and work together.  They don’t tend to naturally have a lot of ambition, so it’s often a little ironic when they find themselves in a manager’s role.  Nines almost never panic. When  healthy, they’re steady, although rarely speedy, workers who just keep plowing forward undaunted once they get a good head of steam going. On the unhealthy end, they can be passive aggressive nightmares.  If you’ve ever had a boss who was sweet and likable, but made you completely nuts because of his or her inability to confront people, he or she was probably a Nine.

I don’t see a lot of Eights in an agency or web dev environment, but the couple I’ve met have actually been really valuable. Eights don’t tolerate B.S., and ad agencies and web devs are sometimes breeding grounds for it.  If you need a “bad cop” (and in an agency where clients don’t always pay their bills and employees don’t always perform to expectations, you do) then having an Eight around can be a great asset. He or she just needs to be aware of his or her “bull in the china shop” effect and give the creatives and programmers enough space that they don’t feel like Big Brother is constantly watching and waiting to pounce.

Sevens are more common in a web dev because they love gadgets and new things, but I’ve seen them in ad agencies as well. Sevens are great brainstormers. They’re great starters. They have an infectious enthusiasm and passion when things are new. They are not good finishers, so they’re often best in business development. A healthy Seven can get the client as fired up and excited about a project or campaign as they are.  If you have a Seven in a creative role, it can work but they usually need to be paired with someone who’s better with details and hanging with things till the end, like a One, Three or a healthy Four.

Sixes are often  chameleons, and don’t necessarily fall neatly into a stereotypical job, unless maybe it’s accounting. Depending on whether you’ve got a phobic or counterphobic Six, they’ll either be the person with the uncanny ability to see exactly how everything is going to fall to pieces, or the person who jumps into the most terrifyingly intimidating task without checking the pool depth first.  Sixes are usually very loyal–they tend to stay with a company for decades, which is why you don’t find them a lot in a volatile agency or startup (unless they’re counterphobic, and keep joining startups as a response to their fear of an employer going under).  They can also be kind of paranoid when unhealthy, and prone to “I stabbed you in the back, but it’s your fault because I knew you were about to do it to me” behavior.

Fives are often skilled programmers or analysts. On the positive side, they’re often both intuitive and logical. They can add great insight and are typically really skilled at whatever they’ve decided to master–if you can get them to part with their knowledge.  On the unhealthy end, they can tend to hoard information like a dragon hoards gold. Fives are a classic mad scientist/wizard. Rarely extraverted, getting them to collaborate can be a task, but if you need someone to FOCUS, a Five is your guy or girl.

Anyway, this is all very broad and stereotypical, but I have observed that certain personality types really do seem to be drawn to particular roles, if not specific job titles. It’s always helpful to know where your natural strengths are, and what you might want to keep an eye out for in terms of weaknesses.

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