I hate Myers-Briggs, because I’m an ISTJ

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) is a particularly fashionable form of idiocy. People get shipped off to training for work, or worse, personal development courses, and return all starry-eyed, like new initiates into some wacky cult.

BusinessIt’s frightening how easily people become obsessed with their “type”, sharing it with everyone in earshot at the least excuse, and babbling enthusiastically about how well it describes them. Of course it describes you well, Brainiac – it’s just a digest of your responses to a series of basic questions. If you didn’t think it described you, I’d suspect multiple personality disorder.

And then, of course, there’s the Forer Effect, which is a pretty good fallback if the survey somehow manages to be so badly designed that it isn’t even an accurate reflection of your own responses. Anything that isn’t totally wrong will seem right, just as completely different people can read a horoscope and believe it describes them perfectly.

MBTI-heads even have their own secret cultic code: “I’m an ESTP, but I’m on the cusp of F, and I can function as an ENTP when Jupiter’s in the ascendant or there’s an R in the month. You’re an I, aren’t you? I can tell by your aura.” You can probably tell I’m not a fan.

So far, I’ve been expected to complete a MBTI twice on different courses. I strongly suspect I’ll have to do it again before very long. It’ll tell me that I’m ISTJ (trust me, this is not going to change), and then I’ll have to do lots of stupid exercises about where my skills and preferences lie, and how different personality types will do things differently.

Because obviously, everyone who falls into one of the 16 arbitrary personality types is going to think exactly alike at all times, just as everyone born in a certain month is going to find that a particular day is unusually lucky, or a good time for rekindling lost love, or some such bollocks. Well, I am not a personality type – I am a free man!

SurveyThe frustrating thing isn’t that this pseudoscience is being taught to (and lapped up by) just about everyone in a senior position in any organisation, nor even that many thousands of working hours are being lost to this waste of time. What drives me absolutely potty is that there’s an important point in there, being swamped by a tidal wave of arsegravy.

We all have different approaches and preferences – this is obvious, and it’s helpful to tailor approaches to the skills and needs of the people we’re working with. But that important truth is discredited by its association with MBTI, and is narrowed by the restrictive use of just four measures.

One of the most important factors in any group is having the right balance between positive and negative people. Eliminate the negative thinkers, and no one notices the obvious flaw in the latest plan; eliminate the positives, and no one comes up with a plan in the first place. This and many other vital factors just aren’t reflected in simplistic Myers-Briggs types.

The understanding that different people respond to various motivations in different ways is fundamental to team working, but the details are a whole lot more complicated than four letters. It takes thought and flexibility to understand someone else’s approach, not a mechanical allocation to one of 16 boxes.

If something similar was run without the horoscope-lite psychology, it could be quite valuable. As it is, it’s just a mess.

Images courtesy of mjamesno and parylo00, used with permission


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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

14 responses to “I hate Myers-Briggs, because I’m an ISTJ”

  1. segmation says :

    Did you know that Color Can Help You Understand Personality Types ?

  2. Agnostic Buddhism says :

    That people can score differently on the MB at different times gives us an indication of its reliability. I’ve heard it said that one may be feeling differently on a certain day, but if so it’s measuring mood rather than personality. There are other theories of personality that are more scientifically grounded (such as the big 5), but these are less simplistic and less touchy-feely.

    As an aside, folks can be diagnosed with personality disorders, but there’s no connection between theories of personality and theories of personality disorders. Of course, no one goes around bragging about their personality disorder type. Maybe we should 😉

    • Yo says :

      People score differently on every self-judging “quiz” depending on their mood, regardless of how objective it is. I think this can be blamed on the natural ambiguity of the English language. There’s a reason a lot of quizzes ask the same questions in different ways… they’re trying to get around the connotations of every word. But it’s not very effective, because people are either educated on the technique or simply realize anyway because it is always pretty clear. Quizzes are just a very ineffective methodology when it comes to self-evaluation.

  3. Plasma Engineer says :

    Ah yes – of course it is time for Myers-Briggs to do the rounds again. It was popular about 20 years ago too, and even though I didn’t realise at the time that I was a developing skeptic I felt that there was something fishy about it. Oddly enough, Myers-Briggs could have helped me by mentioning that small important detail about myself – but it didn’t!

    I wonder whether I can find my score for the last time I did it. (Cue to go to the loft and search through dusty files!)

    Why do senior management lap this stuff up? I think it is because it is seen as a sign of strength to involve highly paid consultants (whatever their actual value). Nobody seems to criticise them for it, nor for their lack of native wit when it comes to spotting snake-oil salesmen.

  4. Moi says :

    Myers-Briggs really is not mumbo-jumbo. The point is how these four simple preferences can combine to create very complex personalities and surprising differences between people. If you want to know which types tend to be “positive” or “negative”, or whatever else is interesting to you, you could find out. Too bad you’re allergic to it and not interested in seeing the potential…! :-)Also, people almost always get the same results unless one of their preferences isn’t very marked; and there is plenty of room for individuality and growth within each type. But I understand that sometimes a personal reaction to something can keep us from seeing the facts. 😉

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      Ad hominem much?

      What I want to see is evidence of the significance of these four preferences. I want evidence that they’re more significant than any other possible spectrums, and that they’re more rigorous than a magazine questionnaire on whether you’re a dog person or a cat person. I’ve looked repeatedly, and I’ve drawn a blank. If there’s any reliable evidence base, it’s very well hidden.

      At best, Myers-Briggs is one of many possible ways of analysing personality, one that’s overhyped, heavily marketed and frequently massively abused by people who take four letters and regard them as a clinical diagnosis. I don’t see that as any reason not to criticise it.

  5. jdieqzx says :

    REALLY? So if you read the description of ESFJ and INTJ you would not know the difference if someone switched these on you? It is nothing like astrology. It does link to other issues as well, there is fear in stating how this test links to personality disorder or other propensities rather then a lack of data or correlation.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I’m not sure what you’re proposing – are you saying that I would notice the difference between one type and its opposite? Well, duh. Or are you saying that I’d notice if I was given the “wrong” type? Also duh. But the type is identified by a very basic analysis of your own answers to questions specifically for that purpose – it says nothing that you haven’t said yourself. People seem to be impressed by it, but as it just reflects your own knowledge back at you, it’s just an administrative form of cold reading.

      As I say, personality types can have some value at their most basic level, and with careful use. The problem with Myers-Briggs is that the application is often outrageously overblown, much like your apparent claim that certain types are linked to personality disorders. That’s not just overblown, it’s positively dangerous.

      If you find it helpful to think about how you prefer to operate, and how others may differ, that’s all fine and dandy. Once you attempt to stick people in boxes and pathologise those arbitrary categorisations, or even a small subset of them, then we have a problem.

  6. loisaida says :

    It’s an easy and relatively cheaper way for upper management to identify their human resources without slapping an EEG on them: http://mbtitruths.blogspot.com/2012/08/neuroscience-of-personality.html. The self-help angle they take is so employees will go along with sharing private information about how they think.

  7. Elizabeth says :

    And the debate rages on.

    You make good points, because every person is an individual.

    I think one difference between the 16 types and the Big 5 (aside from testing, which I admit the 16 Types is lacking in) is that the Big 5 is *presented* as a scale, rather than as definitive typecasting.

    To use myself as an example, I lean heavily towards Perceiving (vs Judging), and that has remained pretty much consistent throughout my life. Yet I fall quite close to the middle of the Introversion/Extroversion trait, and yes, sometimes my result might reflect my mood. Well, the “Neuroticism” criterion in the Big 5 system sure as heck reflects my mood and where I am in my life! Does a small inconsistency render the whole system useless? I think not! If the majority seems accurate and helpful, does the fact that it’s not perfect mean one should throw the system away entirely? The Big 5 also can produce inconsistencies, and yet it is pretty commonly accepted in the world of Psychology. Even computer programs do not work 100% correctly, 100% of the time. There is a lot to be gained from even a general understanding of how a person thinks and functions. But its important to realize it’s just that–general.

    To truly understand the 16 Types, it’s important to realize that none of the types is set in stone, nobody is going to fit neatly into any one category, and that there is an immense amount of variation within categories because people are unique! Each letter is basically a scale, and yes, this means that you might respond differently depending on where you are in your life. But a person with Bipolar Disorder–or Autism, or ADHD, or any mental “thing” in which the criteria is subjective–may respond differently on a diagnostic test depending on where that individual is in life. No two Autistic people are exactly the same; no two Americans are the same; and no two Republicans or Democrats are going to agree entirely; just as no two ISTJs are going to act, think, and feel the same as the other!

    Personally, I have found the 16 types to aid in understanding myself and others, not to hinder it. Yet at the same time, it’s important to realize that everyone is an individual, and that no test can replace a seeing a person for who they are.

    Take if from an ENFP. 😉

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