Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Old Wisdom for a New World in Crisis? the Enneagrammatic Structure of Integrated, Optimal and Sustainable Problem-Solving

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Old Wisdom for a New World in Crisis? the Enneagrammatic Structure of Integrated, Optimal and Sustainable Problem-Solving

Article excerpt

The concept of 'wicked problems' (e.g., Kolko, 2012) generally refers to problems and also organizational as well as public policy challenges which may be complex and without or resistant to simple convenient solutions. This paper outlines a framework for addressing all kinds of wicked problems which adapts the ancient wisdom of the enneagram as a basis for a theory and practice of integrated, optimal and sustainable problem-solving. In similar fashion to the insights of complexity/fractal/convergent/chaos theories of science and related models which bridge natural and human knowledge systems and thought, such a framework inevitably (we think) needs to be built on principles of convergent thinking, the emergent 'self-organizing' aspects of nature, and a dynamic yet interdependent view of interaction with or adaptation to any complex and changing economic as well as natural environment. The ideas developed in this paper are consistent with and also build upon aspects of Richard Knowles's practical and accessible Process Enneagram model.


Evidence of how difficult decision-making has become is everywhere. Repeated modification of strategies has become a requirement for firms and the rapid adjustment of public policies has become the norm for governments... when organizational plans, corporate strategies or national policies don't work, there is often a reflex suspicion that leaders are either incompetent or corrupt...

D. Rycroft & R. Kash, The Complexity Challenge, p. 17

As our conditions and environmental context keeps changing, the balance keeps shifting. It's the Leadership Dance

R. Knowles, The Process Enneagram: A Tool from The Leadership Dance, Part 2, p.7

The renewed application of an ancient symbol of transformation (the enneagram) by Knowles (2002) to support the 'leadership dance' needed for 21st Century organizational adaptation to a fast-changing world in crisis also exemplifies the timeless application of and convergence between ancient human wisdom and unprecedented 21st Century challenges. As J.G. Bennett (1974) outlined in his studies based on the work of Gurdijieff and Ouspenksy, the enneagram derives from ancient knowledge traditions which have yet long converged with the foundations of modern knowledge. This is exemplified, for instance, by how the seminal Pythagorean influences on the emergence of Western thought and mathematics were in turn based on associated notions of 'sacred geometry', musical harmonics, and philosophical as well as aesthetic principles of the golden ratio or proportion- a symbol for natural growth as well as symmetrical proportions in time and space alternately expressed as the Fibonacci numbers, the logarithmic spiral, and the phi geometrical proportion. The natural spiral structure of the golden ratio or section makes it an exemplary symbol of the link between internal and external aspects of systemic transformation (Livio, 2002). In contrast, the enneagram is rather the exemplary process symbol to describe a 'self-organizing systems' view in time for emergent, strategic and intentional outcomes-based problem-solving. This is especially so in relation to human organizations needing to adapt to increasingly complex and fast-changing environments. In this way it might be proposed that the enneagram process retains its exemplary relevance for a 21st Century world in apparent perpetual crisis.

As Bennett further points out, the enneagram structure encourages as well as reflects a dynamic 'triadic' or triangular perspective which represents a remedy for rigidly linear, hierarchical, and either-or (i.e., dualistic) notions of thinking, planning and acting (p.2). Rather it projects various notions of human development as an emergent and convergent knowledge-building process as well as dynamic interaction or dialogue in time and space. Knowles's distinction between 'machine' and 'living systems' applications of the enneagram process corresponds to a related delineation between negative and positive cycles of knowledge transformation. …

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