Google Artificial Intelligence and the Enneagram with Earl J. Wagner Ph.D. | PoP 292

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Google Artificial Intelligence and the Enneagram with Earl J. Wagner

Have you ever heard of the enneagram philosophy? Do you sometimes struggle to understand other people’s point of view? Are you interested in different perspectives of the world?

In this episode, Joe Sanok speaks with Earl J. Wagner about Google artificial intelligence and the enneagram.

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Meet Earl J. Wagner

Earl J. Wagner does leading work in technology and personal development. As a Google software engineer working in artificial intelligence, he enabled the Google Assistant on Google Home to provide users with guidance through cooking recipes. Also at Google, he teaches the skills of Compassionate Communication, having taught over 2000 employees in over 100 sessions. This is part of his involvement in the international Nonviolent Communication Community spanning nearly a decade. He has also long been involved in the Enneagram personality type community, and serves on the board of the International Enneagram Association.

Earl holds a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from Northwestern University, an MS in Media Arts and Sciences from the MIT Media Lab, and a BA in Computer Science and Philosophy from University of California, Berkeley. He splits his time between Santa Cruz, California and Chicago, Illinois.

Earl J. Wagner’s Story

Earl has always been interested in mysticism and different takes on reality. When he was growing up, he was fascinated with ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’, as well as theories around the pyramids, etc. Earl is also very interested in people’s different perspectives on life. And, how they can bridge the gap between their different views.
With regards to his current involvement in AI, he’s always been interested in technology and maps. Early on, he realised that you can see things in new ways by taking a step back. With AI, it’s using computers to see things in new ways, i.e.: having the computer provide a map for you.

In This Podcast


In this episode, Earl J Wagner shares his journey of how he became involved in developing the assistant side of Google’s artificial intelligence. He also speaks into his interest of different world views and provides invaluable insight into the enneagram, nonviolent communication, and spiral dynamics.

“Through software, you can help people have any kind of experience.”


Earl started meditating in college and enjoyed its effects of obtaining clarity of mind and a new perspective on things, as well as relaxation.

Definition of Enneagram: The Enneagram refers to the nine different types or styles. Each represents a worldview and archetype that resonates with the way people think, feel and act in relation to the world, others and themselves.

When Earl discovered the enneagram, it helped provide him with some perspective on how other people view life and approach situations. The enneagram also provides us with a better understanding of ourselves through the experience of others.

Nonviolent Communication

Spiral Dynamics

Tier one thinking: black and white / us versus them thinking. Believing that you have a specific path to follow and that there are a certain set of beliefs that bring unity. This can prevent people from discovering what they believe personally. People may think that if they believe something different to the people around them, they will lose their support system.

This gradually moves into individual philosophy of life. Deciding on your own belief system, but still acknowledging the validity of others’ beliefs. This developed further into a more holistic view of other people’s experiences in other parts of the world. There is a focus on tolerance except for the intolerant.

Tier two thinking: having a curiosity of other people’s views and opinions. In tier one, people are often motivated by fear. Yet, in tier two, people seem to let go of the fears and accept them as part of the range of experience.

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Meet Joe Sanok

private practice consultantJoe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.






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Podcast Transcription

P0P 292

If you are starting a practice and you do not want the hassle of not knowing what to do and you want to do it in community, you want to be able to have that support of other people and have me by your side, helping you launch a practice. You have to join Next Level Practice by heading over to for the invite to join this amazing community. It’s only $77 per month, and the return on investment people are getting is insane. That’s

This is the Practice of the Practice Podcast with Joe Sanok: Session Number 292

I’m Joe Sanok, live here in the Radio Center 2 building. I am so glad that you’re with us today, whether you are starting a practice, growing a practice, scaling a practice, or moving past having a practice, I’m so glad you’re.

You know, one of the things that I talked with all of our Next Level Mastermind participants with is the idea of this triangle, that I developed for how I live my life, and that triangle is looking at that low-hanging fruit in your practice, making sure your practice is optimized, you’re seeing as many people as you can through the practice – not necessarily you, but other people – making sure all of that time is optimized so you can take things off your plate. Also working on then your big idea, so that could be a podcast, an e-course, consulting, keynotes, a book, like you want to be the next Brene Brown? Let’s do that.

And then the third side of that there was lifestyle, where we set boundaries, where we’re not going to work 90 hours a week, that’s not good for families. That’s not good for health! We’re going to go after things are interesting to us outside of just making money.

And the next coming weeks are two weeks where I’m really interested in exploring that out with Earl Wagner, we’re going to talk to him today. He works in artificial intelligence in Google, and then he also is on the National Institute for the Enneagram. So he’s going to talk about different ways to think about the brain’s evolution. And then next week we can be talking to Steven Taylor, who has been studying people who have had awakening experiences, inside and outside religious traditions where they have this clarity and it’s just fascinating research.

You know, we all have these things, our clients look at us, they think of us just as a counselor sitting in a chair or people see us in certain role as a business owner, and we are complex people. We might enjoy road biking, we might enjoy walking in nature. We might enjoy video games, we might enjoy cooking. There’s all these things that we enjoy, but often times we don’t put enough time into. And so I’m really excited for this interview today and excited for you to start thinking about things, beyond just the practice so that you can live a whole life and that happiness is kind of pronounced in every area of your life.

So without any further ado, Dr. Earl Wagner.

Today on the Practice of the Practice Podcast, we have Earl J. Wagner. He does leading work in technology and personal development as a Google software engineer, working in artificial intelligence. He enabled the Google Assistant on Google Home to provide users with guidance through cooking recipes. Also at Google, he teaches the skills of compassionate communication, having taught over 2,000 employees in over a hundred sessions.

This is part of his involvement in the intentional nonviolent communication community, spanning nearly a decade. He’s also been involved in the Enneagram Personality Type Community and serves on the board of the International Enneagram Association. Earl holds a ph.D in Artificial Intelligence from Northwestern University an M.S. in Media, Arts and Sciences from the MIT media lab and a B.A. in Computer Science and Philosophy from the University of California-Berkeley.

Joe: Earl, holy cow. Welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Thanks, I’m glad to be here.

Joe: You know when we met in boulder, it’s funny how you meet people and right away you feel a connection with them, and now knowing so much about your background. I see why I found you to be such an interesting person.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah I know I remember we had a lot of great conversations that was a lot of fun connecting with with you and the folks there.

Joe: So you do artificial intelligence work at Google and we want to clarify, you’re not speaking on behalf of Google, you’re talking from your own point of view. Tell us a little bit about that work.

Dr. Earl Wagner: So you know we’re working as part of the Assistant, so kind of Google offers the Assistant kind of like how Amazon has Alexa and Apple has Siri and within the Assistant, we’re really wanting to offer help to people. You know extending what people experience with Google on the search page to just providing help through, like other parts of their lives, as well.

My project, what we focused on is helping people through cooking, through cooking recipes that they find on the web. So if you have Google Home, the device, it actually guides you through through step-by-step during the recipes. And that’s part of my interest in just, you know, how we can make computers help people even more? Keeping the person in charge, in the center of things, but how can the computer help us in giving us just the right information just when we need it?

Joe: Well I know when we were brainstorming different things for artificial intelligence and how that might look, you had mentioned like what if a couple was having a fight and there was a facilitator, they could jump in with nonviolent communication tips and I thought, oh my gosh, to be able to take these therapeutic ideas and then have them be automated could really be helpful to some people kind of in the world.

Tell me how you got into artificial intelligence and how that became something you were so excited about working on.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Thanks, I appreciate you mentioning that. Some of the things that I’m really excited about it, you know, where we could go with this in terms of software, helping people not just with tasks, but also just improving in a relationship with other people and their relationships with themselves. I think that’s kind of a wide-open frontier and in 5 or 10 years, I think we’ll see a lot of progress there.

To go back to what you’re asking, my interest in artificial intelligence. It’s interesting, it’s kind of a few things that link together some of the interest that I had. I mean I’ve always been interested in, I would say, like kind of like mysticism, you know, different different takes on reality. I remember as a kid growing up in the 80s. There was Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and there was the Mysteries of the Unknown.

Joe: I loved those books!

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah, the Time-Life books with the pyramids or the UFOS. That kind of led me into being interested in science and how the world works, and also how the human mind works. I find it just so fascinating, what are the different ways of understanding why people think the way they do? I mean, it also shows up in politics. Often we’re talking across entirely different world views. So what’s the nature of our world views, how is it that two people can see the same thing and come to totally different interpretations?

That’s kind of what led me into Enneagram with the personality types. Nonviolent communication has been really powerful for me in terms of just seeing, what are ways to sort of bridge that gap? How is it that we can people from the different world views can talk to each other in ways that they are more easily able to hear where each other’s coming from. And then going back to where you started out asking me about AI, I’ve have always been interested in just technology, like what’s possible with technology.

I remember, actually in elementary school I was fascinated by maps. I always saw maps, as things where places were, cities in other locations, where they’re located relative to each other and I remember the elementary school teacher introducing this concept of a globe and saying, well, you know so the earth is round, and you know every location, every city, every country has a place on the globe. And I remember thinking, the earth was round. I think like a lot of kids do, that maybe it’s like a big disk.

And so I remember her telling us and my reaction as a kid, I was thinking about this globe thing. That’s an interesting theory, but where is China? Where is Britain? You know, really wanting to test it out. And just being fascinated with this idea that, Oh, we can actually have insight or we can see things in new ways through taking a step back or through maps or through globes. Other ways that we have for understanding information.

So that’s really what’s guided me in my work. What are ways the computer can help us in seeing things in new ways, arriving at new insights. Giving us a map, if you will, for our experience. So that feed directly into what I’m doing right now, which is – what if you’re doing this long task for the first time, making a recipe – what are the ways the computer can keep track of the details? Keep track of where you’re going and provide you the guidance, so organizing the information that way.

I want to pause because I just covered a bunch of different things. I want to check if all that made sense or if there’s anything that wasn’t clear that you want me to elaborate on.

Joe: I appreciate that. I guess one thing I’m thinking about is, you get to all these points – Enneagram, nonviolent communication, IT, artificial intelligence. For most people, they go kind of the mystical route or they go the psychological route or just the IT route. But somehow you’ve brought this all into what you’re doing as a professional, but even beyond that. It doesn’t feel like it’s just your career, but that it’s who you are as a person. Were there experiences earlier in life that helped unify some of those different things for you?

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah, that’s interesting. I think for me it’s just always having this kind of curiosity and I think a big part of it is, a lot of it it’s from when I was young, was just encouragement from my parents, you know if I was interested something – go look it up in the encyclopedia, go to the library and read books about it.

Joe: I should pause there. Those of you who don’t know what an encyclopedia is, there used to be these books of knowledge. It’s just funny how it these things. I remember the Encyclopedia Britannica in our basement and just thinking about that being the information versus what we have now is just shocking, the change.

So your parents encouraged you and then, where did you go from there? Because I feel like, looking at what you majored in, going from a B.A. in computer science and philosophy and then going to MIT and doing Media Arts and then a ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence. It seems like there’s almost like a stacking of knowledge there that’s moving you towards where you are now.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah, yeah, that’s interesting! It’s tough to explain, I mean for me, I guess the way that I see it is I might have maybe a dozen different areas that I’m interested in and then with each job or with each kind of next-step, it’s like okay, how many of these does this hit? You know, one of the things I loved in the university was teaching and thinking about, how do you take something complex and really break it down and explain it to somebody or explain to a class.

And so when I went from working and doing research in the university environment to working at Google, I thought, how can I still like scratch that itch? How can I still be teaching? So that’s maybe one of the 12 things and then finding, oh, I was able to do it there. Kind of going back to what you’re saying, I mean really it comes back to these questions about how is that people thinking about things? How is it that software can help people in thinking about things. I mean, part of it for me has been the way that I’m interested in stuff.

I remember taking computer classes in high school, and it was like, oh wow, through software you can help people have any kind of experience. You could guide them through having a kind of experience. That was just really mind-blowing, really eye-opening. It kind of reminds me of Jerry Garcia when they showed him like the original personal computers to Jerry Garcia, the lead singer of the Grateful Dead, which was a big band. You know from the 60s, his reaction, he saw the personal experience he was like, wow. They made LSD illegal, I wonder what they going to do with this.

Going back to that, there’s been… I’m really inspired by the sort of the counterculture of you know, California in the 60s and 70s, the the kind of vision of how can we have a society that works for everybody? And just fascinated by how the San,Francisco Bay Area, you know what is going to nexus expect. You know especially in the 80s between the counterculture and then the advent of the personal computer. That was a lot of pluses and minuses in terms of IT and how it’s making the world more automated and mechanistic, and now we’re worrying about social media and you know all the downsides. But the flip side is I’m really inspired by how empowering it can be. I’m so excited to be witnessing all that, while at the same time wanting to be really careful and aware of the downsides, of limitations

Joe: So philosophy wise, you have studied the Enneagram. You also are into nonviolent communication, integral theory. Which one was the first one that you discovered that sort of open some doors for you?

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah, it’s interesting. For me, kind of rewind a little bit. So I had graduated from Berkeley as an undergrad I was starting graduate school at MIT and I remember hearing people talk about how graduate school was just really overwhelming, like even like emotionally, it can be really like stressful. I was thinking, I should take some steps to anticipate that, and I actually started meditating around that time, that was around 2001. I just started meditating and just finding that something that I could do that I could change my experience, how I was relating to the people, all the situations in my environment changed. How I was experiencing stress and that really tapped into what I’ve mentioned before about this kind of fascination with mysticism and other ways of experiencing reality.

This was a small step that I could take to have this altered consciousness and really enjoying the effects of meditating, of kind of quieting the mind. And so that was really what got the ball rolling again and since then, you know for for for a while now, just for 16 years, been pretty much – more or less – doing a daily practice and that has been invaluable for me in terms of having clarity of mind having a kind of equanimity emotionally. It was then a few years later, that I came across the Enneagram. And it was really helpful to understand some of the challenges that I was experiencing graduate school in terms of working with some of the professors, working with some of the students. It’s funny, it’s a little personal, but I think my advisor won’t mind.

Joe: We’ll go personal, that’s great.

Dr. Earl Wagner: I remember having a lot of friction with my pd.D. advisor. We were having different ideas with where to go with the project, we were working on an AI project. I kept trying to motivate it, I would try to guilt trip him, shame him, you know… we really need to make progress on this, you’re not meeting me half-way, this kind of stuff. And I found that it just wasn’t working and it was incredibly frustrating.

It was actually when I came across Enneagram, I was noticing – maybe he’s motivated in a completely different way. All these tactics that I use to motivate myself. At the time it was imagine what could go wrong, driving myself with perfectionism, not feeling good about my accomplishments unless it was perfect and then trying to emphasize that for him, as well. But if he wasn’t motivated with that same kind of perfectionism, it just wasn’t working at all.

And so reading about the different types I got some more clarity about how he was motivated, how he might have been motivated. So coming to some thoughts about where he might land in terms of the Enneagram types. And also noticing about myself, how I was approaching the work. It really helped provide some perspective. That has been something that has helped a lot along the way. Even with Enneagram, for example, processing a lot of stuff. Why was I driven by that kind of that perfectionism? Why was I so dissatisfied? So how can I arrive at greater serenity, greater equanimity, more acceptance about how things are.

Joe: So for someone that’s never heard of Enneagram, gives us a quick history on it and share with us the bullet points for the types.

Dr. Earl Wagner: The way that I usually explain it is, I talk about it kind of similar to Myers-Briggs. I think a lot more folks might be familiar with Myers-Briggs. There’s the four different dimensions or categories. Introverted vs. extroverted. Thinking versus feeling and so on. It’s kind of like that, except that it has a system of nine different types.

Joe: It’s pretty ancient. Isn’t it pretty old?

Dr. Earl Wagner: That’s really interesting. There’s a lot of debate within the community. Whether it goes back, you know, millennia, you know versus maybe it just like a hundred years. I do know you can trace it back to within christianity, there’s the seven deadly sins and seven does correspond to seven of the types, when they’re most unhealthy, when they’re acting out. So there’s some connection there, but it really would start to develop in the 60s and 70s through a couple of of of teachers, this guy toronto and another guy, and that’s when it really started to snowball. At first it was this esoteric knowledge that was shared within small groups. At the time in the 60s and 70s. They were thinking about it’s like it’s too powerful to share publicly. So you had to go through a lot of spiritual development to receive this knowledge. And for me as a kid, that’s the stuff that I liked. Wow, what do they know?

So, yes, it’s basically nine different types and for each of the nine type there’s a healthy side and there’s the unhealthy. The way that comes across unhealthy is when there’s this kind of perfectionism, there’s a joke with people. It’s like the glass would be 95% full and now I’m focusing on that 5%. That’s like incomplete.

Joe: How do we get to 100%?

Dr. Earl Wagner: It becomes a kind of tunnel vision that I focus on some things and lose track of other things going on. So it happens with the nine types. Our perception gets distorted, our blind spots. The flip side is the healthy side. The healthy side for my type, so if you’re familiar, you might hear that I’m talking about Type 1. And the numbers don’t mean anything, they’re just the way that we identify them.

So for Type 1 in a 1 through 9, the healthy side is having a clear sense of kind of what’s possible, having a clear sense of like how things are and then also how they could be. So there’s a lot of idealism of the healthy type 1. Some people call them the reformer. Able to have a vision of what’s possible and how we can get there. One thing that was really inspiring actually for Enneagram is… take some of my heroes, so somebody like Steve Jobs, when he was alive. Just doing this amazing, pioneering technology, also noticing that he approached the world in a very different way that from how I approach the world. Is that such a good fit, you know in terms of as a hero or role model – and you know, he’s also could be really abrasive, so not necessarily taking on all of that.

But what’s been really helpful for enneagram is noticing, oh, for some of the folks who we think might have been 1s like Gandhi. You know, able to articulate this kind of positive vision of where we can get you through social change. For me, it’s like, Oh, OK, it’s seeing somebody who could be a role model and whose psychological dynamics are kind of a closer approximation to my own in terms of how this person faces challenge, how they overcome challenge, how they communicate, how they act effectively as leaders. So that’s something else that I’ve been totally inspired by Enneagram. It’s kind of giving us a better sense, giving us more awareness, that’s about our ourselves through the experience of others.

Joe: So for the other types, take us through Types 2 through 9. I don’t want to spend the whole time on Enneagram, but just so people have a basic idea of it, and then we can move into some of the other philosophies we discussed over lunch back in Boulder.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Let’s see, so I mentioned some of the challenges with my advisor, who I think you might have been a 9. And so what’s a 9? 9 is the kind of person, generally, they like to go with the flow. They tend to be pretty easy-going. And the reason why is, for them, they have this experience if there’s conflict in the environment or if there’s a conflict between themselves or other people, or if there’s a conflict between other people. It’s like they experience that really strongly. It kind of really comes into their space, it really affects them. So they put their effort and their energy into kind of smoothing things over and maybe not necessarily asserting themselves. So the healthy side is often they can be mediators. They can go into a conflict and help sort of bridge the divides. They can be within the conflict, but you know with it even in in that intensity.

The unhealthy side, sometimes they just kind of check out from life and don’t assert themselves because they don’t want to create conflict. Maybe then that actually causes conflicts to arise. I kind of just did a deep dive for Type 9. It gives you a sense of one type. There’s other types. There’s Type 4, you know there’s the stereotype of the tortured artist and the person who really goes into their emotions, whereas the healthy side they can be incredibly speaking to the universality of our experience through their art or through some form of self-expression.

So that gives you a sense of some of the types. I encourage people to do a search on Google to find out more. Just to give a little bit of background. So, within the community, different trainers, different people will have different descriptions of the 9 types, but there are sort of commonalities that they have in ways that they describe each type. They have different names or labels for each type, but what we do all agree on is the numbers. You know that the 1, you know the Reformer, can seem kind of perfectionistic, that kind of stuff.

Joe: Gotcha. So then as you get into Enneagram, where did the other different modalities and philosophies start to come in?

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah, it’s interesting. So for me, a lot of the curiosity is just voracious interest in understanding our motivation, our world views. And so seeing how Enneagram goes a long way it covers a lot of that. But then there’s still more. And so that’s, when I came across nonviolent communication, I’ve been interested in psychology I’ve been interested… I’ll actually explain it another way, too. Within the computer communities , there’s what they call life hacking.

And there’s quantified self. And life hacking is people always looking for what kinds of innovation can they bring into how they do things in life, what are new ways of of doing things? What are new skills? How is it that they can like learn and apply new skill? So people who are really interested in learning, really interested in optimizing their life. And part of that is quantified self. So people taking journals or of their dreams or their activities, different habits like that. What’s fascinating for me is applying some of that thinking, like how to bring innovation in our lives and thinking about what does that look like internally? What are innovative perspectives that we can try out? And so that’s what really got me interested in personality type. And then different theories on emotional intelligence.

And it’s through that emotional intelligence that I arrived at nonviolent communication which I really liked because it’s has this very precise model of different aspects of our experience. So understanding how we’re motivated, how the different qualities that motivate us. I remember even as a kid just being really frustrated – you know the Beatles song, All You Need is Love, and it was like well no, you need food and housing.

Joe: A jacket in Northern Michigan.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah exactly. Yeah totally. You know, in Michigan for sure. You know a sense of community that’s beyond individual love. And so really appreciating within nonviolent communication (within NVC), that it’s a very inclusive in acknowledging all the different kinds of qualities that motivate us. I know for me, there are interpersonal qualities like love and community and there’s also – I’m really driven by other needs around, like meaning, a sense of purpose, growing and so coming across this approach where the different trainers will have lists of these qualities and encouraging and part of the skill in this approach is translating in any situation, when I said this that maybe I regret, I said this, that was kind of hurtful to this other person, translating it back to these kinds of positive qualities that I was seeking. But maybe I didn’t have the skill in putting it into practice and so we’re seeing, what are some different options that I have?

Joe: It’s interesting, I use this activity with families oftentimes and I have probably 50 or 60 different values like justice, intelligence, creativity, love. And I say to each person in the family, OK pick the three things that for you would make the best, healthiest family. And so they pick their three things and then so you say you have a family of three and then they have nine between the three of them. I then say, OK now narrow it down to your top three that you have. And it’s interesting to see that discussion because oftentimes then it reveals how somebody feels within the relationship. And I remember this one teenager, he really wanted justice to be one of theirs and it made sense because he felt like he kept getting the short end of the stick compared to his siblings.

The parents had this light bulb moment when they realized that this young man really wanted more justice. And for them to really figure out, what’s what’s the core value here and then for them as a family to discuss what that would look like to try to naturally incorporate that more into their lives.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah I mean I’m totally I’m getting goosebumps just sharing that story because you and I, we can kind of rewind and imagine dozens of conversations where the teenager gets upset says this is unfair. And there’s no resolution.

Joe: I’m the parent! You’ve got to listen to me, rather than valuing that there’s something that feels unjust to that young person.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Totally. And so by having that language, just how powerful it is, now the parents can actually hear what the teenagers are upset about. Maybe looking beyond the details, what are these core principles at work? What are these really essential qualities that are so vital for this person and that maybe it was just really hard to hear because the way they were expressing themselves because the emotional qualities, the conflict, maybe it was really escalated.

So yeah exactly what you’re talking about, I mean when I was mentioning innovation, for me, that’s innovation. You know when we have a relationship where maybe people feel stuck and they’re not making progress. Is there a difference in perspective, is there a new skill or new technique that can actually break the logjam that could actually create more of a sense of connectedness and how people shift from mulling over – ruminating about the past – and shift to engaging in a relationship, engaging in our lives more proactively. For me, innovation isn’t just software and hardware. Innovation is new perspectives and that’s what I feel so grateful for and so excited about with NVC and with Enneagram and Integral, where we might not think that there’s also a lot of insights there too.

Joe: Yeah I know. For me, Spiral Dynamics was the first thing that I had heard of in that Integrals Spiral Dynamics point of view and it was so helpful to think about people being at different phases of their own personal development and to just recognize where they’re at. So if they’re super into power and looking at one person or kind of mystical thinking or looking to a text to lead them, you know to look at an in-law that maybe thinks differently, politically than me or religiously than me and that makes sense within their phase of where they’re at. What’s the value of that?

So for me to even look back at when I was in high school, I was really involved in a church youth group and had a very black and white view of the world. But then as I traveled as I had people who were very different from me teach me really important things, that black and white thinking… I moved away from that and I think then naturally people start to rebel against that and say, well I’m going to throw all of that, but then that whole tier 2 thinking where you then you go back and say, well what was the value there? Well I had a strong sense of community. I was with really healthy people overall compared to most teenagers and a lot of that was really positive. Even though I had this negative kind of black and white judgmental thinking as part of it.

That was just a whole different way for me to think about personal development and not getting as frustrated with people that maybe aren’t at a similar place as I’m at.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah. Amen to all that. What you described I think is a really powerful kind of way of capturing that. It really supports us in acknowledging and connecting with the humanity of other people even if we disagree with their political views, even if they’re making lifestyle decisions that we disagree with. It’s acknowledging, it’s coming to this awareness, oh, this is you know how the person is seeing the world and being able to relate to that.

Joe: Yeah, even being able to look at situations where, in the past maybe you would have said to yourself, how can anybody think that way? To then be able to frame it within the context of Spiral Dynamics or Integral Theory. To be able to say, OK that makes sense there. How could I – instead have challenge them to come to where I’m thinking – to just say, well what would be a step for them in that direction to think outside of that way that they’re thinking.

It might be helpful to take people through what Tier 1 and Tier 2 thinking is, because some people might not be familiar with that modality. And I remember at lunch when we were in Boulder you did an amazing job of just kind of talking through that. Do you care to share a little bit about Tier 1 thinking and then how that changes in Tier 2?

Dr. Earl Wagner: Sure, yeah I’ll try to do a quick whirlwind and again, I’m a little reluctant because there’s a lot of great stuff here.

Joe: There and there are books and experts beyond me and you. But we’re just two guys trying to improve our way of thinking.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Sure sure, well start with what you mentioned. I mean that black or white, us-versus-them thinking. I mean I grew up in Catholic school and there was a lot of a sense of, OK, here’s the path you have to follow. And on the East Coast outside of Philadelphia, here’s the path you have to follow. If you don’t like go off that path and that’s you know… and so like looking at that. That’s where the community was at, this very clear sense of, these are the things that we believe and this is what brings all of us together. And you can imagine how that’s a kind of social innovation over just anarchy, let’s say, people are just doing whatever they feel like.

So having a kind of unity, having a shared set of beliefs, and us all belonging to the same church or the same organization. That’s like human development over tens of thousands of years. If you believe that, that was an important innovation socially and also individually, to have this clarity of, what is it that we believe? The challenge is where people get stuck is, then – I don’t want to say necessarily get stuck – but there’s that even greater nuance of discovering for yourself, what is it that you believe personally? And that kind of goes back – I really like how it was captured in the Declaration of Independence… that all humans were endowed by their creator with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

And so really this idea of, our life, it’s really up to us. You know we have this potential, we have this opportunity to find life, liberty, and to pursue happiness. Now there can be listeners out there who would say that that is a promise – you know in MLK’s words – that’s a promise that has yet to be fully realized for all Americans. And I totally agree. And yet at the same time I still think it’s just an incredibly powerful vision of us deciding on our own how we want to live our lives. And you can see how people get stuck also. There’s this sense of, well, but if I believe something different from what the people around me believe, maybe I’ll lose my community, lose my support.

If you think about humans living in tribes, that would be really threatening. In the ancient past, that would be really threatening in the past. And it’s really threatening for people now. But that’s what we can see in terms of taking a step towards greater complexity and how we’re thinking about things, being able to distinguish what we believe from what other people believe and yet also acknowledging the validity of what other people believe. So the first group is what we call – I think within integral – that’s Amber. So seeing the world in terms of us-versus-them. Identifying with what we believe is a community. And then shifting to what’s called Orange, which I mentioned with the Declaration of Independence, having this individual philosophy of life.

I want to pause there I want to check in half that kind of…

Joe: Yeah yeah. So I think it was interesting Paul and I… Paul is my friend that we went out to Boulder together. When we were hiking one day we were talking about moving from that ethnocentric point of view, or that tribe centric point of view, and what pushes people to that more national point of view or even a more human-centric point of view that’s greater than nations. And the thing that I think we talked through is that when you’re an individual and realize you’re part of a tribe, you move from, OK my needs aren’t as important or I don’t have as much influence as I thought that I had because I’m part of something bigger, but actually in becoming a part of something bigger, I have greater influence than I thought.

And then that same model works when you’re looking at going from a tribe or you’re looking at your own ethnocentric point of view to a greater humanity that, woah my tribe is a much smaller than I thought it was and now I’m moving into realizing that humanity is much greater. So I mean less overall because I’m just a small tribe within all of this greater humanity, but I actually now have greater influence than I ever thought because I’m part of this bigger humanity.

And so that was just kind of the way that we were talking through how people move through that and more of a comment than than anything else.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah, that’s really interesting insight and what it brings to mind for me is the shift from thinking about the Earth being in the center of the solar system to the sun being the center of solar system. And now you know the sun is just kind of orbiting the center of the galaxy. There’s probably some giant black hole in the middle of our galaxy.

Joe: Yeah absolutely, we were talking about how then people naturally then realized humans are maybe as important as they thought in the world. And so but then they actually have more influence on the ecosystem of the planet. And then even going cosmo, yeah, when you start to see how big the universe is the Earth is rather small within that.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah. Yeah. And it was fascinating for me as it really gets to learning and shifting our perspective. It’s not just a matter of information. And I think that’s where a lot of folks get stuck. A lot of the debate around climate change. I mean it’s not even debate it’s two sides talking past each other I guess you could say. And realizing that wow, there’s an emotional component. It’s what somebody is ready for in terms of expanding their perspective in terms of expanding the increasing the complexity with which they’re able to make sense of something.

And even for me, I can see that there are some things where I try to understand it and my mind just fuzzes out. And I think that’s what happens for a lot of folks. So a lot of folks in Orange, you could talk about, well, there’s a limited amount of oil in the ground. Earth has a fire inside, so there’s a limited amount of oil. They might be thinking, oh well, you know we’ll just keep – with fossil fuels – we’ll just keep going with this. And if you try to make this argument of, well shouldn’t we be thinking about what happens when the oil runs out? I think for a lot of folks their mind just fuzzes out.

So how can you how can you talk about this in a way of, trying to do planning for future generations. And you know whereas their mind might fuzz out, it’s kind of like, what are other ways that we can talk about this that isn’t so much about blame and vilifying? Coming back to an us-versus-them-approach.

Joe: Yeah. I want to go through the other colors in Tier 1 because I really love talking about Tier 2. Let’s just give a quick primer of the rest of Tier 1. I know we’ve got just a few minutes left, but we’ll cover more ground in five minutes than most people do in a whole book.

Dr. Earl Wagner: OK. So that perspective of thinking about things more holistically and systematically, like thinking about global climate change. That’s kind of an awareness or consciousness that we really saw coming online in the 60s. So thinking about multiculturalism, thinking about how society can include more people’s perspectives. So we saw this in the Civil Rights Movement. I mean, we see it right now in social media with #metoo. And it’s just incredibly inspiring time to be alive to see more people’s stories are being told, more people’s stories are being heard. Our culture is kind of expanding.

And so that’s this Green level of consciousness – thinking beyond what’s individual self-interest to relating to more people’s experience, relating to people’s experience in other parts of the world and being sensitive to how other people are experiencing capitalism, not just how do I win the game, but who’s left behind or who suffers? And so there’s a real focus on tolerance, but then of course that has limits in terms of folks within Green, there’s this sense of tolerance for everyone except the intolerant, right?

I actually really liked how Ken Wilbur put it. He really pointed to coming out of the election. You saw it coming out of the presidential election in the U.S. about a year ago, in 2016 of November. A lot of progressives just got upset and said, well screw half the country. A lot of progressives said, wow, OK there’s something here, something going on that I just wasn’t aware of. And so I started to read things like Hillbilly Elegy. Really trying to understand what’s going on in these red states that maybe have been left behind as the coasts have really accelerated economically.

And so that’s actually the first step in moving beyond Green into a second tier. And specifically this new level of teal, which is about accepting the paradox, accepting that we have our experience and other people have their experience and there’s nothing fundamentally different. So it’s the first stages of this kind of non-dualism of being able to relate to other people in their experience as being equally valid. And so that goes back to what you were mentioning in terms of Integral.

In my sense of the Integral community, there’s a real emphasis on hearing and understanding where other people are coming from and just having this tremendous curiosity about people and how they might make sense of the world. So teal is kind of the first stage of this kind of second tier.

And it might sound maybe kind of pretentious to talk about first year versus second tier. I like the way that Clare Graves, who is one of the main folks who started this research and – you can find more about adult development in psychology. So there is a branch of psychology called Adult Development and there are different models about the stages. Some people disagree about the number of stages and so on, but he what he noticed talking with psychology college students is that he saw this big break.

In the first tier, people were motivated largely by fear. We mentioned Amber, being afraid of being separate from the group, being ostracized. In Orange it’s fear of success. There’s a sense that if I’m successful, if I have everything, if I have material possessions that will make my life worthwhile. In Green there’s a fear of being uncool because you don’t get it, because said something that’s perceived as insensitive or offensive.

And what happens is – what’s what’s really amazing to see is – with this transition to second tier and teal level thinking, there’s letting go of those fears. It’s being aware that, oh these are things that we can experience as uncomfortable. Maybe shame of not getting it, maybe being disconnected from our group, or frustration or sadness about not being successful in the way that we’d like. But being able to accept those as part of the range of experience.

And so you can see connections – I see Enneagram is about guiding us to integrating our shadows. So what is it that we have blindspots about, in understanding even our own motivations, our actions. It’s one path to the second tier. Same with Buddhist spirituality in terms of non-dualism and non-attachment. And same with nonviolent communication, which is about through language, how can we connect with what’s motivating somebody else.

Joe: Man, I feel like we could go on for a whole conference talking about this stuff and hopefully the people that are listening, this is just going to whet their appetite to go beyond just our individual clinical work and to dive into some of these philosophies, ways of thinking about the world.

Earl, if every counselor or private practice owner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Oh man. It’s interesting I guess for me the biggest thing that I’m seeing is the influence of mindfulness within psychology, within therapy, that there are a lot of therapists who are fully on board. There are a lot of therapists who seeing some merit to this. Maybe there are a lot who are skeptical. For me, I really see that kind of practice, so meditation this kind of mindfulness practice. Some people do meditation within nonviolent communication we do empathy which is kind a peer-led kind or peer therapy.

I really have this sense that there’s going to be a tremendous social change as people are engaging in more of these mindfulness practices and that we’ll see that as a society that we really will be healing from trauma. Both individually and collectively. And so that’s something that it’s just so exciting to be at this time to see these changes happening. So I kind of went far afield but…

Joe: That’s OK. I love it. Earl thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice Podcast.

Dr. Earl Wagner: Yeah, thanks Joe, I really appreciate you having me on here and really enjoyed this conversation. Looking forward to more conversations in the future.

Joe: Yeah absolutely. All right, have a great day.

Well if you enjoyed that conversation, you’re going to love next week’s conversation with Steven Taylor. Let’s take a listen:

Steven Taylor: It’s clear from the person, the patient or the person themselves, and people who undergo awakening, they’re then normally fully convinced that they’re undergoing some positive transformation, despite whatever disturbances may arise or whatever difficulties may arise. There’s still, they have a deep intuition that they’re undergoing some positive transformation.

Joe: So if you’re ready to have a life change where you want to leave that full-time job or you want to grow that practice or you want to scale that practice up, we would love for you to be a part of our community. We have everything from start to scale to help you out. And if you’re just getting going, Next Level Practice is the best place for you to start. And you can sign up over at Then you’ll get an invitation for our next cohort when the doors open. Then you’ll get an email saying here’s the URL for the door’s opening. And then if you’re first in line, you get in.

And then if you are growing or scaling your practice, we have Group Master Minds for people starting a group practice. We have Next Level Mastermind and we’re developing more and more in the future. We would love to help you. You can apply for all those over at and if you’re not sure if you want to join and you just want some free resources, we have tons of checklists, videos, eBooks, you name it, over

So really, no matter where you’re at. If you’re at that bootstrapping, you have no money, you just need free stuff, we’d love for you to go get some of our resources. If you’re ready to really amp it up and start your practice and get that going in community, head on over to

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Thanks for letting us into your ears and into your brain. You are amazing. We’ll talk to you soon.

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