Broken boxes, by initials – MBTI, WTFP

Published by Tony Quinlan on

I’m amazed to still see how many people still put any faith into the Myers-Briggs personality tests in business. I remember doing it in 1994, not as part of my work thankfully – IBM weren’t that daft, but as a seminar I’d gone along to. Even then I’d struggled with it. I hate being put in boxes – because the boxes don’t recognise that my behaviour is different in different situations.

For instance, that first dimension – Intravert/Extravert. Well now. I find lots of social environments tiring, do my best thinking in peace and quiet and find it difficult to concentrate when surrounded by people. Intravert then? Only… I get thoroughly energised on a stage. It used to be on the radio roadshow stage without a script in front of a few thousand people for a couple of hours. Nowadays it can be on a conference platform or at the front of a workshop – and I enjoy it thoroughly. Extravert then? Under stress? Intravert again.

But there’s no room for that in the test – pick your box and sit neatly in it.

There’s a neat – and short – piece on the mental_floss blog today on it. I particularly liked the comment that it’s only “a step or two above astrology” because, after all, the descriptions are usually done in perfect Forer effect fashion.

Part of what’s made the test so popular with the general public is that it’s impossible to fail. While other psychological tests were designed to diagnose mental illness (or at least screen for it), the Myers-Briggs Test assumes that all 16 types represent shades of normal. Everyone who takes the test will classify as one of the types, and all of the types have a place in society.

Of course, this aspect of the test is also one of the reasons why many experts question its usefulness, placing it only a step or two above astrology. They argue that the results aren’t falsifiable, meaning that any of the 16 types could fit any person, given the right interpretational spin. As psychologist David J. Pittenger wrote in 1993, “The descriptions of each type are generally flattering and sufficiently vague so that most people will accept the statements as true of themselves.”

[From mental_floss Blog » Myers, Briggs, and the World’s Most Popular Personality Test]

Frankly, the sooner we despatch this tool to the same box as Phrenology the better.

Oh, and INFP, in case you were wondering…