Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making plans.
John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy”

It is increasingly apparent to psychotherapists that the normal state of consciousness in our culture is both the context and the breeding ground of mental disease. A complex of societies of vast material wealth bent on mutual destruction is anything but a condition of social health.
Alan Watts, Psychotherapy East & West

“How did you go bankrupt?”
“Gradually, then suddenly.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises


Asleep at the Wheel: Personal Unconsciousness
In 1999 my house burned to the ground. Luckily everyone in the house, including the cat, survived. I had been doing what I normally do after dinner: reading a book, absorbed in its content, oblivious to my surroundings. After the fact, I figured that the fire had been burning in a front room, behind a closed door, for thirty minutes before I stumbled onto it. When I finally discovered it, quite by accident, it was too late. I happened to pass by the door on my way to the kitchen when I heard the sound of breaking glass inside the room. Curious, I opened the door and was hit by a blast of fire and heat that left me burned and terrified. I saw that the noise I had heard was the front windows exploding from the extreme heat in the room. Moments later, the fire, fueled by the oxygen I had provided by opening the door, had engulfed the entire house.

A week later a fire inspector was asking me a series of questions.

“You were in the house the whole time?”


“Didn’t you smell anything?”


“You didn’t hear anything?”

“Not until it was too late.”

“What do you think started the fire,” he asked.

“I have no idea,” I said, “a candle?” I felt like a fool, but I had to admit that I was not conscious of much of anything that happened that night, especially the fact that I had been sitting fifteen feet from a flaming inferno. I was lucky to get out alive.


Have you ever been driving on the interstate, deep in thought, or listening to the radio, or talking with a friend, when you drive past your exit, and continue to drive for miles before you realize you missed it? Being in this sort of “trance” will probably result in being late for a meeting, resulting in a variety of outcomes from looking foolish to loosing an important contract, because you were unconscious, “asleep at the wheel.”


A client of mine, let’s call her Debbie, VP of Operations, can’t understand why some of her managers don’t think, feel, and act just like her—for example, why Michael needs “so much time” to respond to her suggestions. “He wants time to analyze, to gather endless reams of data, and to calculate all the risks,” she’ll tell you, “but I just want him to act.” She would love to clone Sue, who reminds her of herself when she was younger. “If I could only clone Sue ten times I’d have a team that could transform this company,” she’s fond of saying. She is oblivious to the fact that people are motivated by different things, and they aren’t always the things that motivate her. Taking good advantage of Michael’s gifts for analysis, data gathering, and troubleshooting would make him more valuable to the company, and make her a better manager—but that would involve moving beyond her habitual, unconscious way of seeing and managing people.


When you observe human nature you soon realize how unconscious people are. They do the weirdest things and are astonished when their actions result in the opposite of what they expected. A phrase has arisen in our society when we notice this phenomenon: “What was he thinking?!” People not only act without awareness, they do the same things over and over, as if in a trance, even when they receive feedback about how ineffective or unproductive their actions are.

Although unconsciousness has a “deaf, dumb, and blind” quality, it comes in many recognizable shapes and sizes, such as being oblivious to your own blind spots, or ignoring the needs of others, needing to dominate, being in denial, shooting the messenger, and blaming others. Fred Kofman, author of Consciousness in Business, puts it this way:

“To be unconscious is to be asleep, mindless. To live unconsciously means to be driven by instincts and habitual patterns….When we are more conscious, we can perceive our surroundings, understand the situation, remember what’s important to us, and envision more possibilities for actions to attain it. Consciousness enables us to face our circumstances and pursue our goals in alignment with our values. When we lose consciousness, we are swept away by instincts and habits that may not serve us. We pursue goals that are not conducive to our health and happiness, we act in ways that we regret later, and we produce results that hurt us and those we care about.”


A few weeks ago I was at lunch with James, the purchasing manager with a large flooring manufacturer. He was looking a bit anxious.

“So how’s it going?” I asked him.

“I have no idea. Harry hardly talks to me, and when he does, it’s usually on the run between meetings.”

“Have you asked him how you’re doing?” I asked.

“Sure. He always says the same thing: ‘Fine,’ whatever that means.”

“What do you think it means?”

“I think it means he’s either just OK with my performance, or he’s looking to replace me.” He paused. “I think it means I better get my resume updated,” he said.

A half an hour later I was with Harry, James’ General Manager, in our monthly coaching session. He was telling me about James.

“James is great. Since he started he’s made contacts with overseas suppliers and he’s sourcing material at two thirds what we used to pay. He’s got all of his people on the performance management program; absenteeism is down and productivity is up.” Harry was smiling.

“Have you told James that?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I tell him he’s doing OK all the time.”

“Have you told him what you just told me? ‘James, you’re doing great,’ with all the glowing specifics?”

“I thought I did.”

“You didn’t,” I tell him, “at least not according to James. And what a difference it would make if you did.”

Unconsciousness in the workplace costs companies billions a year in lost revenue. Unconsciousness involves subtle issues such as resisting learning new skills, clinging to the tried and true, an unwillingness to share ideas, values, and meaning with one another, and fear of change—even when that change brings with it the freedom to be creative, happy, and abundant. Meaningful work relationships—an essential ingredient for productivity and effectiveness, cannot grow in an unconscious climate.

“Habitually conditioned to avoid fear and insecurity, most people compulsively cling to what is familiar, even if it is very painful and confusing. I have witnessed countless people turn away from the experience and revelation of freedom because in that freedom there is nowhere to hide and nothing to hold onto. As they begin to awaken to a freedom that is profound, many turn back to a familiar condition of struggle and confusion…
Adyashanti, The Impact of Awakening


Just Like Sheep (or Chimps): Organizational Unconsciousness
I recently heard about an experiment where ten adult chimps were put in a very large cage with a twenty foot tree in the middle. A bunch of bananas was hung at the top of the tree. Soon, one of the chimps climbed the tree and reached for the bananas. Immediately one of the researchers blasted the chimp with icy-cold water from a fire hose; the researcher also sprayed the other nine chimps. The water was painful, not refreshing. Before long, another chimp ventured up the tree, reached for the bananas and was blasted, along with his nine companions, with the painful, icy water.

This same routine went on for a day or two, with different chimps taking their turn at the bananas, triggering the same group punishment. Then one morning one chimp started up the tree and before the hose was turned on him, the other nine chimps pulled him to the ground and beat him up. This happened each time one of the chimps tried to get the bananas.

Next, the researchers began to replace the original chimps one by one with new chimps. As suspected, each new chimp would climb up the tree for the delicious bananas, and the other chimps would drag him from the tree and beat him senseless. Each chimp learned the rules that had been handed down: “We don’t eat bananas here!” After several months, the researchers had replaced all of the original chimps with new ones, and all of the chimps had been fully indoctrinated, and trained by the “older” chimps. The chimps ignored the bananas, and there was no longer any need for the fire hose.

Occasionally one or two of the chimps would look up at the bananas, instinctively longing for them, but eventually they stopped looking altogether, and finally lost the scent of them. Eventually they weren’t even conscious of them.

Not long ago I was in a meeting with ten salespeople discussing the impact their personality had on how they sell. We’d just finished when there was a tap on the conference room door, and in walked Jack, the sales manager. “Am I interrupting?” he asked.

“No, Jack, we’re finished.”

“I just want to take a minute to talk to the troops about their numbers,” he said. I told him “fine,” and he launched into a familiar tirade known to his salespeople as: “Let the beatings begin.” Jack told them “I could make more sales in one week than all of you make in a month,” and “I don’t know what the hell you people are doing during the day but it isn’t selling.”

I let him go on for a few minutes, then I interrupted and asked if I could see him outside the room.

“What’s the idea?” I asked.

“I’m trying to put some fire into these people,” he said.

“Do you think its working?”

“Why wouldn’t it?” he said.

“Because you’re screaming at them, and treating them like children, for starters.”

He looked at me like I had three heads. “It’s motivational,” he said.

“Motivational? What makes you think it’s motivational?” I asked.

“It’s what I’ve always done,” he said, adding, “That’s the way you motivate sales people.”


Becoming More Conscious
Becoming more conscious changes everything personally and in relationships.

The more conscious we are the more accurately we see our environment, the more we appreciate and understand interactions and events around us, the more we are in touch with our personal meaning and values and what drives our behavior. Without consciousness we are like a ship adrift without a rudder. Consciousness is not just for the spiritually minded; it is a basic survival skill, a basic business skill, and the foundation of all successful relationships.


Paying Attention
      Becoming more conscious means first and foremost being more aware of what is happening in the here and now. It means being conscious of our behavior and the impact it has on us and on others. It involves living in the present, aware of our selves—what we think, feel, say and do. It means minimizing our tendency to linger in the past, replaying past offences, hurts, and mistakes (or successes, for that matter). Paying attention means liberating ourselves from our old baggage. The ability to observe and reflect on what is happening around us as well as inside us, and to use that information to communicate and make decisions is the most basic and most valuable life skill we can have. To return to Fred Kofman:

“To be conscious means to be awake, mindful. To live consciously means to be open to perceiving the world around us, to understand our circumstances, and to decide how to respond to them in ways that honor our needs, values and goals….A unique characteristic of human consciousness is self-awareness. We not only perceive the external world, we can also bear witness to our internal world. We can pose questions like, “Why am I thinking what I am thinking?” “Do I have sound reasons for my conclusions?” …Not only do we experience self-awareness, we also recognize “other-awareness.” I’m talking about something more subtle than perceiving other people from an external perspective. We know that beyond people’s observable behavior, they are conscious, choosing their actions based on their reasoning. We can ask, “What leads you to think what you are thinking?” “Do you have evidence for your conclusions?” “Why is this issue important to you?”


Systems Thinking
      You become more conscious when you understand and appreciate that you are a system, rather than a random, disconnected conglomeration of parts, and are part of other larger and larger systems that all fit together in an integrated whole. You begin to see that you really are your family, team, department, company, state, country, and planet. When you operate from this perspective you act in ways that are life affirming to your self, others, the organization, and the environment—and you are living consciously.

This is simple to see from a physiological perspective: avoid exercising and eating properly and your physical system will suffer; from a psychological perspective: ignore your feelings and your emotional system will suffer; and from a cognitive perspective: display illogical, unfocused thinking and you’ll make bad decisions, to say the least. Of course, ignoring or misusing any one of these systems affects the larger system called “you.” So, if you’re a couch potato, there’s a good chance that your energy level will be low, your self confidence and self esteem may be in the dumps, you probably won’t think as clearly as a fit, healthy person, and you probably won’t get the job, the girl, or the Mercedes.

Regarding the personality, most of us make this “unintegrated” mistake all the time. The Enneagram teaches that we are a system composed of nine different strategies, all available to us to navigate through life’s situations. Most people, however, don’t see the system, or if they do see it, they don’t see the other eight strategies as part of “their” system. They only see, and only use the part they prefer and are comfortable with—no matter how ineffective it may be in different situations.

The Enneagram demonstrates how the habit of preferring one strategy to deal with a variety of situations and people creates automatic, unconscious behavior—an “auto-pilot” characterized by tunnel vision, limiting beliefs, blind spots, and habitual patterns of behavior.

For the organization, this same phenomenon, of perceiving companies composed of separate parts competing with each other, rather than one system, causes terrible inefficiencies. Seeing separation rather than unity, and differences rather than similarities causes untold tension, silos and turf wars. Some of these tensions are classic: sales versus operations; marketing versus engineering; compliance versus sales, the field versus headquarters; customer service versus sales, east coast versus west coast, management versus labor; us versus them; “this, not that.”

      For global corporations, systems thinking means taking responsibility for more than their own profit, and driving a global transformation of consciousness by responding more and more consciously to the global unity that they have been so instrumental in creating.


Emotional Intelligence
Becoming more conscious involves improving your emotional intelligence. The term “emotional intelligence” has become very popular lately, due in large part to the work of Daniel Goleman, David McClelland, and others. Emotional intelligence is generally understood to be the ability to: (1) identify your emotions and manage your responses to them. (For example, recognize that you are angry with someone and deal with it appropriately, by neither screaming nor allowing yourself to be a “doormat.”); and (2) identify the emotions of others and manage your responses to them. (For example, recognizing that a coworker is angry with you but not giving in to the temptation to escalate the conflict.)

Studies conducted from 1982 to the present indicate the overwhelming importance of emotional intelligence. More than 2,000 managers from 12 large organizations were analyzed to determine the most important competencies for success. Eighty-one percent of the competencies that distinguished outstanding managers were related to emotional intelligence (Boyatzis, 1982). In a study of 181 different positions from 121 organizations worldwide 67% of the abilities deemed essential for effective performance were emotional competencies (Rosier, 1994). In analyzing data from 40 different corporations to differentiate star performers from average performers, emotional competencies were found to be twice as important in contributing to excellence as pure intellect and expertise (Jacobs and Chen, 1997).

Repeatedly, in all categories of jobs and in all kinds of organizations, studies show that emotional competence mattered at least twice as much as IQ and technical expertise. Improvement in emotional intelligence means improvement in effectiveness at work and in other aspects of life. (Tallon and Sikora, 2006)

Learning versus Reacting
      Becoming more conscious involves learning. It involves recognizing your limiting beliefs and counterproductive concepts, and developing more resourceful ways of operating. Becoming more conscious means being a “learner” rather than a “reactor.”

  • Learners observe their behavior; reactors ignore it.
  • Learners reflect on their observations and realize things about themselves and their environment. Reactors prefer to stay in a trance, rejecting self-reflection out of fear or arrogance.
  • Learners accept new, resourceful information even when it contradicts their existing beliefs. Reactors reject it, sticking stubbornly to a “this is my story and I’m sticking to it” philosophy.
  • Learners assume accountability, resolve conflicting commitments, and expand their thinking. Reactors rationalize, make excuses, blame others, and find ways to remain unconscious—still blind to their blind spots, still limited by their limiting beliefs.
  • Learners learn to overcome fear, to make conscious decisions, to manage and to communicate with awareness, compassion and precision. Reactors resist learning, and continue to make the same poor decisions based on fear, habit and reactivity.
  • Learners act consciously and creatively, using new information and new skills. Reactors react rather than act; they remain unconscious, stuck in inertia, doomed to repeat habitual behaviors.

Higher Values from a Higher Self
      Becoming more conscious involves acting with integrity, and being true to the highest human values; it means being honest and respectful of others. It means being accountable for your mistakes, responsible for your actions, and committed to the larger goals of the organization.

A conscious worker expresses higher values from a “higher self.” A conscious worker is in the “flow.” Rather than reacting automatically from the narrow, fixated strategy of the normal personality, she operates with appropriate action. When the situation calls for resiliency, she is resilient; when the situation calls for joy and exuberance, she is joyful.

A conscious CEO does not squander his employees’ retirement fund or flaunt corporate greed as if it were an executive privilege. A conscious employee treats others with respect, generosity, and courage. He makes a great addition to any work team. Perhaps Nathaniel Brandon says it best:

“Living consciously is a state of being mentally active rather than passive. It is the ability to look at the world through fresh eyes. It is intelligence taking joy in its own function. Living consciously is seeking to be aware of everything that bears on our interests, actions, values, purposes and goals. It is the willingness to confront facts, pleasant or unpleasant. It is the desire to discover our mistakes and correct them… It is the quest to keep expanding our awareness and understanding, both of the world external to self and of the world within.”

Personal Consciousness is Organizational Consciousness—and Good for Business
Consciousness doesn’t just apply to the individual. It is the essential ingredient for a successful organization. People need to act in harmony to get work done; they need to communicate effectively, coordinate activities, share information, and make decisions together. People working consciously with each other don’t resist learning, either about each other or about new processes or tools. They keep each other informed, feel free to ask questions, and are comfortable sharing their beliefs, dreams, values, and ideas. This ability to communicate consciously provides meaning and context for the team’s actions and decisions.

In the last five years I have experienced, heard and read about a radical change in our collective consciousness. Increasingly people are becoming more conscious and are awakening to greater clarity, purpose, wisdom, and creativity.

Consciousness is good for individuals, relationships, and business. The more consciously a business operates, the more successful it will be in fostering consciousness in its employees, community, and the world. And there is mounting evidence that conscious businesses are profitable. Anders Ferguson, past CEO of New England Country Dairy, and a founding partner of Uplift Equity Partners has no doubt about it: “All the best business data we have right now indicate that companies that focus on the environment, social issues, workplace issues, women’s issues…on improving life, are outperforming their competitors financially.”

In Good to Great, Jim Collins describes the Level Five leader as one who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” He is gratified to discover that the best run, most successful companies have been run, and continue to be run, by Level Five leaders. We have seen how the “superhuman” CEO, whose personality often overshadows the company he is hired to serve, has been the downfall of companies such as Enron and WorldCom. Level Five leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It is fair to say that Level Five leaders are more self-reflective, more aware of their personality issues, and more in touch with their personal values—all characteristics of higher levels of consciousness.

The Enneagram: Improving Personal and Organizational Consciousness—and Improving the Bottom Line
I believe that people and companies are becoming more conscious, and that more tools are available to achieve higher levels of consciousness than ever before. One of the most powerful is the Enneagram. It has grown in popularity and application with individuals and organizations over the past 30 years. During that time people have consistently reported positive results: how it dramatically increases awareness of oneself and others—the first step toward positive change; how it helps people communicate, resolve conflict, adapt to stress, influence people and lead more effectively. Enneagram practitioners are gathering more “hard” data on the Enneagram’s effect on improving in specific skills and disciplines. I recently conducted pre and post testing on a group of people who attended my Enneagram-based program, with the following results. Participants improved in:

  • self-awareness by 68%
  • empathy by 31%
  • confidence by 22%
  • conflict management by 28%
  • awareness of others by 53%
  • adaptability by 33%
  • optimism by 28%
  • communications skills by 28% (see Appendix A for the entire study results).

The Enneagram has been shown to exhibit diagnostic and predictive abilities, and is useful in a variety of personal and organization applications such as managing, resolving conflict, coaching, leadership development, and team building. It is a crucial tool for improving salespeople’s knowledge and understanding of customers, which leads to improvements in target marketing, product positioning, customer relations, and selling.

Another recent study (Helen Gallant, 2006 MBA Thesis, NMMU) aimed at understanding and improving customer relationship management by analyzing the buying preferences of the nine types. This research analyzed consumption patterns in an in depth manner, rather than focusing on values, attitudes, interests or demographics, in order to identify a typology of consumption lifestyles. The Enneagram was used to implement psychographic segmentation to bring about an improved, multi-dimensional marketing approach. This extensive study resulted in comprehensive data including key factors and recommendations for marketing to each of the nine types (see Appendix B).

As humanity moves towards a new awareness of added depth and meaning to everyday existence, new ways of engaging with customers also need to be found. The Enneagram can be seen as a tool to aid that understanding of self and others in a deeper and more connected way than before (Kamenini, 2003).

Don Riso and Russ Hudson, bestselling authors and pioneers in developing the Enneagram have taught the Enneagram all over the world. They see it as a powerful tool improving in multiple areas of human endeavor, and for developing personal and organizational consciousness:

“The Enneagram is an invaluable tool for the growth of consciousness in human beings. When the personality types (and the system as a whole) are rightly understood, they help illuminate what is so often unconscious—and therefore hidden—in us. The Enneagram helps turn the light of awareness onto those features of our personality that operate automatically, not only keeping us “asleep,” but so often getting us into more trouble, more conflicts, and increasing our suffering and that of others. But, of course, the Enneagram is not automatic, much less magic. Through self-observation, we can come to a deeper level of self-awareness and self-realization. Through this process, things can begin to change. Transformation becomes not just an idea, but a reality. When enough individuals begin to change, the world will begin to change.”

BOB TALLON is and writer, speaker, teacher and coach, and the author of The Enneagram Connection: Using the Enneagram and Emotional Intelligence to Transform Personal and Work Relationships, and the co-author of Awareness to Action: The Enneagram, Emotional Intelligence, and Change. He specializes in team building, and executive and life coaching. Visit him at