How Does the Enneagram Compare to the SDI 2.0?

How Does the Enneagram Compare to the SDI 2.0?

The Enneagram has become popular in many Christian circles which has raised the question, “How does the Enneagram compare to the SDI 2.0?”  Is it similar?  Does it do the same thing?  What is the difference between them?  I get these questions so often that I thought it would be good to write a blog post that highlights the similarities and differences.  I hope this will be helpful to those of you who have used both instruments or are considering implementing these instruments in their ministries and workplace.  My purpose is not to discount the value of the Enneagram.  But I am a big fan of the SDI 2.0 as you are probably aware. 

Before I begin, I will not claim to be an expert on the Enneagram.  However, I have used it quite extensively in the past and have a working knowledge of its origins, assumptions, and uses.  From the outset, I want to say that I have an appreciation for the Enneagram as it has helped many people gain an understanding of themselves.  The Enneagram is one tool that has helped some people discover greater self-awareness.  You can find many books on the Enneagram to help you gain a deeper understanding of how it is designed, but I hope to show you in this brief post what you most need to know.

Both the SDI 2.0 and the Enneagram are self-assessment tools that fall under the title of personality inventories.  The SDI 2.0 is a scientific researched derived tool developed at the University of Chicago which undergoes constant validity and reliability updates.  The Enneagram was brought to the United States from Chile by the psychologist Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean psychiatrist who was exposed to the Enneagram through Oscar Ichazo.  It is not a scientific researched tool.  Many Christians are reluctant to use the Enneagram because of its historical roots being tangled in non-Christian religions and philosophies.  Neither the SDI nor the Enneagram was developed out of a Christian worldview. 

Both these tools are similar in that they both refer to the same three motivations for behavior.  The SDI calls these People, Performance, and Process motivations.  The Enneagram has many forms (there are many different schools of thought so there is no one standard) so it is difficult to describe them with one set of terms, but the system is designed around motivations of acceptance (people), significance (performance) and security (security).  I have written about these motivations in my book, Three Passions of the Soul.  The SDI 2.0 displays these results through a triangle, where the Enneagram builds their system around the nine point enneagram symbol and so the three motivations are not readily observed in the system.  The similarity of the SDI 2.0 and Enneagram departs after this one similarity. 

It is impossible to go into great detail on the differences in the way the Enneagram and the SDI 2.0 differ because the Enneagram is quite complex.  It actually uses four enneagrams (Enneagram of the Passions, Enneagram of the Holy Ideas, Enneagram of the Ego-Fixations, Enneagram of the Virtues).  There are many others as well, but most people don’t use them.  To understand the Enneagram and apply the learnings to your life, you may need a counselor or coach over time. 

One of the benefits of the SDI 2.0 is that it simple.  It isn’t simplistic, but rather easy to understand and apply.  The benefit of being easily understand is that people can immediately begin applying what they have learned about themselves and others which transforms relationship culture. 

Some people equate the SDI 2.0 with the Enneagram because they both have “personality Types”.  The Enneagram describes nine Types with descriptions for each including their behaviors.  The SDI 2.0 has seven that are based on the combination of the three motivations.  But there are differences that are very important to recognize.  The SDI 2.0 only groups people together based on motivations, not behaviors.  The Enneagram types make no distinction between motivation and behaviors in the Types.  If you are a Type 3 (Achiever), then your report will describe both your motivation and behavior for all Type 3’s.  This is problematic for many people because they may have one motivation, but they behave differently than described.  They are also a combination of motivations.  In fact, I believe we all have a combination of all three motivations in us.  Let me state the problem in another way.  The Enneagram assumes that people can be described by just nine Types.  Many people find it difficult to identify their Type because they don’t fit into these categories well. 

One of the ways the Enneagram tries to address the problem of not fitting into the nine Types neatly is to propose “wings”.  They recognize that people are more complex and therefore you may need to find another type that may be like you some of the time.  This is highly confusing and make the system too complex to be useful in daily relationships. 

In contrast to the Enneagram, the SDI 2.0 makes a distinction between motivations and behavior (strengths).  There are 5000 different combinations of the three motivations on the triangle and each of them can manifest and prefer 28 ranked strengths.  The truth is that people do different things for different reasons (motivations).  In working with the Enneagram, I have found that up to 40 percent of people never settle on a Type for these very reasons.  This is especially true for people who on their SDI 2.0 are in the HUB or close to the HUB.  Just today I was debriefing someone who has spent three years reading and studying the Enneagram with spiritual directors and counselors and they still find it a mystery as to what Type they are!  A person who is motivated by People (Acceptance) don’t always act the same way.  They sometime use RED strengths or GREEN strengths, but they use them for People reasons.  The Enneagram has no way to account for the complexity of personality beyond nine.  The SDI 2.0 has millions (more than twenty million) of combinations of motivations, strengths, overdone strengths, and conflict sequences, that have high face validity by those who take it (99 percent).

I had mentioned that the SDI is scientific.  By that I mean that there have been more than 50 years of scientific studies verifying the reliability (the assessment gives you similar results each time it is taken even years or decades apart) and the validity (people agree with the results they receive).  In other words, you can rely on the results.  No instrument is perfect, but the SDI 2.0 has the strongest numbers by far of any instrument tested that I am aware.  Because even the SDI 2.0 is a “self-assessment” it can give variant results as a person may not know themselves all that well and report erroneous information.  This is why the SDI 2.0 allows people to validate the description of their results to customize their results based on their view of self. 

The SDI 2.0 teaches that motivation shifts in conflict in three steps as the conflict intensifies without being resolved.  The Enneagram assumes a person’s motivation stays the same.  The failure to address this most important aspect of human interaction is fatal in my view.  If a personality assessment doesn’t help you with conflict resolution, it misses the mark, even if there are other benefits. 

The SDI 2.0 keys in on conflict triggers.  Knowing your conflict triggers and knowing how your own behavior can trigger others in conflict is key to relational management.  The Enneagram is lacking in this area.  The Enneagram does give a description of different levels of functioning which is helpful but doesn’t help a person understand the source of this behavior in overdoing strengths. 

Perhaps the greatest difference between the Enneagram and the SDI 2.0 is that there are excellent pre-designed and pre-tested relational workshops available to help people apply the learning of their results.  I have experienced firsthand the relational transformation of numerous churches and organizations that have employed these workshops.  The icing on the cake is that we have integrated all the SDI training materials theologically.  The trainings that are available are theologically orthodox and Scripturally sound. This enables us to seek transformation from Christ Himself. 

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.