Published on July 25th, 2014 | by Adam McKibbin
Should businesses abandon the Myers-Briggs test?
At Central Desktop, we’re somewhat obsessed with learning more about how people work together. Our 9 types of collaborators quiz, infographic and benchmark report offer a fun, easy way to learn more about how you fit alongside your colleagues – and, as a manager, how you can build a team of high-chemistry collaborators. Our newly launched C-Index is designed to help you identify the best difference-makers, influencers and collaborators in your company.
Our 9 collaborators quiz isn’t highly scientific, of course, but is meant to be more actionable than, say, “Which Frozen Character Are You?” On the opposite end of the spectrum from Buzzfeed quizzes is the Myers-Briggs, the O.G. of personality tests. Businesses have relied on Myers-Briggs for decades, and its results just kind of sound deep and serious (“You’re an INTP? I’m an ESTJ!”). The general notion is that the test can spur better collaboration via a deeper understanding of the quirks and differences between colleagues.
“Knowing what Myers-Briggs type you are — and, crucially, knowing the types of your other team members — can be a great help in getting past those communication roadblocks on your projects,” says longtime business analyst Tim Walker.
Plenty of people agree. “More than 10,000 companies, 2,500 colleges and universities and 200 government agencies in the United States use the test,” reports The Washington Post. “From the State Department to McKinsey & Co., it’s a rite of passage. It’s estimated that 50 million people have taken the Myers-Briggs personality test since the Educational Testing Service first added the research to its portfolio in 1962.” Whatever its faults – and we’ll get to those in a moment – it’s certainly an advancement over measuring your skull to decide whether you have what it takes to make it as a lawyer, or a cold corporation not bothering to think in terms of empathy and collaboration in the first place.
Roman Krznaric, author of How to Find Fulfilling Work, readily acknowledges the lack of scientific rigor behind Myers-Briggs, but says that the results can be a useful tool for self-reflection, at least when used in combination with other tools. For instance, your Myers-Briggs type may point out strengths you’ve ignored, helping you find alternate career routes. Even if it just helps you add a few new adjectives to your resumé… well, hey, that’s something.
Some corporations have taken their attachment to Myers-Briggs to fairly extreme levels; according to one case study, managers at Hallmark often began meetings by asking attendees to call out their “type.” Hallmark credited Myers-Briggs for increasing efficiency and improving “diversity of thought.”
Plenty of psychology experts caution companies against experiencing similarly seismic results. Instead of aiming for widespread cultural change as a result of Myers-Briggs assessments, Psychology Today contributor (and professor of leadership and organizational psychology) Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., urges tempered expectations and a more measured approach. “Perhaps the best use for the MBTI is for self-reflection,” he writes. “If used as a starting point for discussing how people vary in their personalities, and emphasizing tolerance for individual differences and taking others’ perspectives, then it can be a useful tool. However, it is important that the test administrator caution against over-interpretation of the results, and discuss the limitations of the instrument.”
One of the major criticisms of Myers-Briggs is the inconsistency in results; it’s been documented to be pretty likely that if you take the test multiple times, you’ll get varying results. This makes some sense, since it’s obviously difficult to neatly compartmentalize all of humanity into 16 categories (sidenote: those categories aren’t actually much more scientific than “Are you a Rachel or a Monica?”). Sometimes, though, the results are dramatically different, which poses some obvious challenges for organizations seeking a path to a uniquely personalized collaborative nirvana.
“When it comes to accuracy, if you put a horoscope on one end and a heart monitor on the other, the MBTI falls about halfway in between,” says organizational psychologist Adam Grant. Grant, who’s previously spoken with us about the importance of creating a culture of givers, has a list of suggestions for improving the test, starting with an abandonment of the outdated Carl Jung ideas that serve as the core of the analysis.
Myers-Briggs has another problem, although it’s a problem that almost certainly is related to its enduring appeal: essentially all of the results can be cast in a positive light. Even in our 9 collaborators infographic, there are traits that would typically be considered problematic: dinosaurs who are slow to adapt, siloists who cause bottlenecks and security concerns, skeptics who serve as an occasional thorn in your side. In Myers-Briggs, basically everyone is a winner.
“This isn’t a test designed to accurately categorize people, but a test designed to make them feel happy about taking it,” says Vox’s Joseph Stromberg in his withering recent takedown of Myers-Briggs. “This is one of the reasons why it’s persisted for so many years in the corporate world, despite being disregarded by psychologists.”
UPDATE: Inspired by some of the provocative comments below (thank you), we did a follow-up in which Jason Compton considered five of the leading alternatives to Myers-Briggs.