Work psychology Why you should abandon Myers-Briggs

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.”

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About the Author

is Central Desktop's content marketing manager. He's previously served in editorial, community and social media management roles for startups and major media companies alike. His writing has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including the Chicago Tribune, Adweek, The Nation and Metromix.

36 Responses to Should businesses abandon the Myers-Briggs test?

  1. Ieuan says:

    I think the test is massively useful but in a controlled and limited way.

    Trying to build teams off the types is ridiculous and as bad as setting out with a goal of wanting a team with ratios defined be sex or colour. Other people knowing your type isn’t necessarily useful either as it encourages dishonesty and favouritism.

    However knowing our own tendencies can be massively empowering and helpful. Many people have a mental picture of their own behaviours that does not match reality, the MB test (if taken several times to iron our inconsistencies) can help make the real picture more clear for people and if they can understand that better they can become more effective.

  2. Richard Bryce says:

    As an interim HR Manager with 40 years experience it frustrates me how often I have to go in to battle with people totally wedded to the MBI, 16PF and other such nonsense. These instruments lack any scientific rigour but they appeal because they are simple to administer and are easier to apply for HR departments than is skilful interviewing and background research. They give HR departments the aura of scientific rigour when they are exactly the opposite, somewhat like homeopathy is to proper medicine. It always amazes me how few (usually none) of the users and advocates of MBI have ever bothered to research it, and if they have it should trouble them to find there has been nothing published in reputable journals to support it. They just take it on face value. To me this is professional negligence.

    MBI is fun to use at parties and as an ice breaker so long as people are told it lacks any reliability as a predictor. It is criminal to use it to determine someone’s fate in the job market and work place.

    • Rupert Granville says:

      Couldn’t agree more. It has become a substitute for instinct, experience and intelligent interview. Worse, it is now used to ratify or mask incompetence. Genuine HR expertise is now subordinate to daft-arsed application of these quack tests…….

    • Diana says:

      I agree with this assessment. We have taken similar “tests” at work, and I’ve noticed that some of my teammates hold their (and others) results as gospel. Used in such a way, and in the wrong manager’s hands, the results of these unscientific tests could prove to be (and rightfully so) the basis of a discrimination lawsuit.

    • Todd says:

      I agree. As an Educational Psychologist, I find the prevalence of “pop” psychology distracting from so many of the advances in the field of Psychology. These things get into the public and take on a life of their own. Same goes for left brain – right brain preferences where we are supposed to be artistic if we are left brained etc. However, the science is very thin for this as well, but people take it as gospel.

    • Barry says:

      I took Myers-Briggs 3 times over a span of 15 years. It gave me the same type each time. I gave me a lot of insight into myself which I agree. By and large it certainly beat the “INSTINCT”, “GUT FEEL” and “EXPERIENCE” of many self serving personnel executives. No one should use the test as the way we use a measuring tape but it tells a lot more than anybody can tell you.

  3. actually, a horoscope is extremely accurate. that’s one of it’s draw backs. it provides so much detailed information that is is almost useless for describing group dynamics. and that’s a key problem word, too. humans are dynamic — a calculus which horoscopes show — and to see any test as anything more than a snapshot in time of the ‘film strip’ of one’s life is in error.

    what one must consider is that there is a continuum of archetype to type and a useful tool falls at the right place on that continuum for the job at hand.

    it is not the Myers-Briggs that is a problem, but those who do not know how to apply it nor educate people on how to apply it.

    interestingly, Myers-Briggs arises out of Jung’s encounter with astrology as the categories are based on the 4 elements of alchemy. knowing this, one can apply the essence of Myers-Briggs to things other than people’s personalities. from how to cover a topic completely in writing to setting organizational goals to determining the value of actions. it is far more robust than most if any business has tapped into — but to do so requires real expertise. :)

  4. Ali says:

    What kind of Myers Briggs type posts a comment about posting comment upon the comments board related to the Myers Briggs test, anyway??

  5. Simon Goode says:

    Waste of time. Out date testing method, more for amusement. I’ve always believed MB was a novelty act equivalent to astrology.

  6. Robert Park says:

    I took the Myers-Briggs test 1961 which was 53 years ago and found it interesting and helpful; interesting in that it revealed interests to which I was unaware and helpful in that it provided direction to my future career. The psychologist who later provided career counselling was well off the mark. I simply followed the money as I had a wife and family to support but in occupations which instinctively appealed to me. What the tests failed to reveal was the distinct tendency to function better on my own, that my IQ fell within the top 2% and so too did my view of life and that I had acute perception and sought to understand the principles behind things. Somewhere around the middle of the test it revealed that I had executive qualities. To a working class young man brought up in a dysfunctional family and being told that he was dumb and who never proceeded beyond primary education where he was a chronic truant, this came as a surprise yet, interestingly, this was the direction in which my career followed and on its conclusion I was the CEO of a public concern. At the time I took the tests I was frustrated with how my life was unfolding so it provided a some support but was it useful; well, not really, as I am certain that I would have taken the same course (or another closely aligned to it) that I had chosen from the circumstances in which I found myself at any given moment.

    During the late 1970s I was subjected to the PF13 test at the Edinburgh Business School where it was suggested that I was a Bohemian which could not be further from the truth and that my motivation was negligible (meaning probably that I was laid back) but I cannot recall more about this tests except to say that I thought the questions where infuriatingly puerile.

    • John Brooks says:

      Me too, dysfunctional family, told I was stupid. Took the MB test and was told I was a leader with feelings.

      Come to find out I led a platoon and such in the military.

  7. Ruth McVeigh says:

    Actually, I have a great deal more faith in handwriting analysis, if it is done with a proper sample and by someone who has made a study of it.

    • Kavod says:

      I’m sure you can tell some things by handwriting, same as by body posture, but my mother and I had identical handwriting when she was alive, even we got us mixed up. Sure didn’t have identical personalities.

  8. bjam says:

    There is no definitive way to identify an employee’s personality. MB is the closest that I have seen, if there were a silver bullet HR departments would shrink and we wouldn’t all need therapy (yes WE ALL need it, if you think you don’t then you need it more than most). This article does nothing to add to the discussion and frankly seems to be lazy writing with little or no thought by the author on what the point of the article is. Case in point, Adam Grant thinks the test should be improved not abandoned then lays this gem; ” starting with an abandonment of the outdated Carl Jung ideas”. There is so much wrong with this I will have limit my ire. 1. Jung’s ideas are far from outdated, they still form the basis for all of modern psychology (has this Adam Grant schmuck even read Jung, the man is a genius) 2. MB is ONLY reasonably good because it uses true science based on the ideas of Mr. Jung, you don’t get more physiologically scientific than Jung. So if Adam had his way he would abandon the Jungian part of MB, then there is nothing left. Such an obvious contradiction is evidence of how poor this article was conceived. There is no problem with MB, there is a problem with how it is used. That would be a useful article. And anyone that thinks any test (even IQ) is going to always be accurate is a fool, nothing is, it is how we use the information not the method used to collect the information.

  9. Liam says:

    Essentially, I agree most with Ieuan. I believe that, much as the article states, the MBTI is best used as tool to facilitate greater introspective self-knowledge, far moreso than anything that can be reasonably applied in a professional context.

    I have found MBTI very helpful on a personal level, for example. My own type is INFP, and contrary to the views of some, I don’t believe it is possible for an individual’s type to change. I think the expression of their natural tendencies is liable to differ as they progress through life and react to their circumstances and environment, however the underlying tendencies, principles and cognitive processes that prompt the expression of those traits – call me deterministic, but I think they are more static, or at the very least are set early in life. It may not be true of everyone, and may not apply to certain individuals (ie genetic sociopaths) but when reflecting on my own experience it is certainly true of me, and considering certain negative stereotypes pertaining to the NF temperament particularly in a business context, I think it’s reasonable to say it’s more than just Forer effect.

    The problem with applying it in an organisational or professional context is not only its lack of scientific verification but also the fact that it is very limited. Quantifying humanity beyond a certain vague accuracy is impossible. MBTI is more than just a collection of four letters as it is based on Jungian cognitive function theory. In my experience it is strikingly accurate in a very broad sense. An individual’s type is more descriptive of how their mind works and how they process information more than anything else. Two individuals of the same type may share certain superficial similarities (and at times even similar quirks and or ideologies) but at the same time are profoundly different people. Type alone cannot encompass a person’s life experiences, personal history and individual variance.

    I fully believe that were my type to have been revealed to employers at some jobs I have worked at in the past then I would have been dropped from consideration, due to what I can only describe as ‘typism’. Many employers are conservative and want hard data and guaranteed return on investment, both in products and people, where possible – I appreciate that. However, I’m of the opinion that relying disproportionately on psychometric instruments as a predictor of productivity and contributions is tantamount to a pre-emptive disqualification of a large number of people who may be of a great help to a company or contribute in unforeseen ways. People are multifaceted creatures.

  10. Abigail says:

    The problem is that these tests aren’t accurate if they are not administered by a professional. Most of us have taken them online, so of course the results are going to vary.

  11. Dean Hallett says:

    There is as much scientific evidence for the MB test as there is for Freud’s – ie not much.They’re selling into a widespread desire – ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could categorise people by personality, you know, kinda scientifically?’ but as for rigorous testing; forget it. In 100 years, when Psychologists agree on how people work, then you might be able to measure something useful; until then, Corporations, save your money and spend it on the office party – something useful to the workforce – rather than this useless BS.

  12. John Price says:

    MB is a load of pointless twaddle. As noted above, it has only risen to prominence because it provides departments with a quantified outcome.

    Modern day equivalent of humorism.

  13. Mark Stephenson says:

    The MBTI categories correlate moderately with four of the Five factor model, which does have some empirical support:

    I can also say that I’ve found it helpful in understanding myself and other people. I agree, though, that it’s best used for personal feedback, and should never be used for employment screening, or even probably career advice.

  14. jerry says:

    Anything that gives different answers on multiple tests needs to be called what it is: garbage. In this case it’s garbage designed to make 7 billion people believe they’re one of 16. Anyone or company that uses this is a joke. You may has well put 16 slips of paper in a hat and make new hires draw one. Hell, make it interesting and make everyone pick a new one everyday. Then someone actually gets one close to them once in a while.

  15. I have four reactions to this article:
    1. The title, as is so often the case in our media, is overly dramatic, although the article itself is balanced.
    2. If you look at innovations over the past several centuries, many of them came from ‘non-experts’ in the particular field. Even Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist, won the Nobel Prize for economics. I have long admired the people who have connected the dots across disciplines to gain fresh insight and understanding. Such is the case with Meyers and Briggs, who took a normative concept from Jung’s work and developed it into highly reliable (see next comment) and valid (in my opinion), practical tool based on lots of empirical work (they tested their questions and interpretations on lots of people to make sure the instrument worked for real people).
    3. Re: the comment about the MBTI’s lack of reliability over time: I have taken it at various times over the past 25 years and although my preference for some of my borderline elements varies a little from time to time, the elements for which I have the highest preference have remained consistent over all those years. I used to be certified to conduct MBTI engagements and give feedback, and this was true for others as well.
    4. I am intrigued by the author’s comment about the MBTI couching all the feedback in positive terms. I am eager to read Stromberg’s and others’ work to learn more about that, its implications, and alternatives.

  16. Mr. McKibbon writes an opinion and extrapolates information from Psychology Today which is hardly considered by psychologists to be a valid, reliable source of research, rather congruent with People magazine. Citing Roman Krznaric, Dr. Ronald Rizzio, and Stromberg is okay, however, this writer de-emphasizes what these sources actually say about the MBTI. Hopefully, he had permission to do so.

    The MBTI is the oldest and most widely researched non-diagnostic instrument used to assess eight dichotomous personality constructs related that were and still are deemed useful in determining best work/career preferences. At the time of its inception our country was heading toward war (WWII) and had implemented the draft and therefore needed a way to assess and guide the remaining work force (women) to jobs that they would be most likely to remain successful with low injury or drop out.

    The MBTI assesses the psychological construct of interest which many authors have misguided readers into thinking that interest is a choice or character trait for individuals. In fact, it is a construct with astounding magnitude to the extent that there is no one instrument that can measure it, which is the point facto that psychologists actually advise/caution about. It has bearings on worker satisfaction, which is related to contentedness, but be cautious about equating these with “happiness” because “happiness” is
    different, usually circumstantial and short-termed.

    MBTI has had changing uses over the time for various reasons. I stopped using the instrument in the 90’s because of the “rubber stamping” conclusions at the time. However, after learning that CAPT had significantly changed and researched the premises of the instrument and had changed to allow for personality changes context to context and over time, I began using it again.

    It has tremendous use in helping illuminate personality differences amongst people in task-approach, listening analysis, communication style and energy differences.

    Collaboration is an altogether different construct than interest. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here and certainly not because Mr. McKibbon’s own INTEREST in collaboration, rather than interest.

  17. tylerh says:

    The main reason for variability in MBTI test results, in my opinion, is that the people conducting the tests, fail to properly inform the participants about what mind set they should have when testing. People should not be answering the questions with a view to what they aspire to, or what is most efficacious in their particular environment. If they can set those types of considerations aside, their answers and results will be much more consistent.
    Also, YES, it DOES point out that ALL types have positive things to offer. OF COURSE – that is the big epiphany! Some people may not be suited to their particular work environment, but the test helps people realize that they may be much better suited to a different environment. Every race, and every nationality and every person has something valuable to contribute, if they realize it, and develop it, and apply it in the right way and in the right arena or field. If you want to start telling people that they are just plain “no good” rather than telling them what they CAN offer, or what they are best suited to, then you have no business being in this business.

  18. Philip PM says:

    I took the MBTI twice while working within our NHS, on both occasions administered by an MB professional, and more recently as the CEO of an NHS Trust. The first occasion was on the introduction of general management to the NHS in the mid ’80s, when my boss was interested in discovering the personality types he’d just inherited as his new group of general managers.

    The second occasion was when we decided to take my Trust board away for an ‘away day’ in 1990, and used the MBTI as much for fun as for anything more serious. I was fascinated to see that the ten folks who participated all came out very much true to type as I would have expected from knowing them and working with them.

    For example, the non-executive directors, appointed by the Health Secretary and mainly from the business sector, sat towards the ‘harder’ business end of the board, while my chairman and I were juxtaposed in the middle in a very good relationship to reflect our roles. My executive colleagues (medical, nursing, finance and HR directors) were progressively strung out towards the ‘softer’ public service end of the spectrum.

    I’m not an expert in this field, and we were certainly not intent on using the MBTI in any formal sense or on a continuing basis, but it was very interesting and enjoyable to capture this little ‘snapshot’ of our team and how we functioned. Whether the test was strictly necessary of provided any further information over what we already knew of sensed, I can’t comment. However, I’ve always kept my own results, if only to remind myself of my extrovert Welsh personality!

  19. Ruth Anne says:

    I have taken it myself and administered by a professional, and every time I get the same result. I have to say it is spot on and really helped me understand why I do some things I do. I also understand why I need time to myself and how I work best since I took the test, and it was a relief to consider that I am an introvert who needs that alone time to recharge, even though I enjoy people and am happy to help them. It hit spot on my spouse and all three kids (the kids had them done by a professional) and pretty much anyone else I know who took it. We took it as part of our education and counseling courses as well, so that was more confirmation to me since it was spot on for all the other students.

    As for astrology, my birth chart describes me exactly as well, so what can I say? Balderdash? Maybe, so I don’t care either way since that also helped me gain a bit of insight about myself. And yes, I veer toward science over anecdotes, but I’m flexible enough to acknowledge when something is wrong or totally correct.

    As for using it in groups, I think it can be helpful and it really helps me to know the MBTI so I can approach the person in a constructive way. I wouldn’t use that exclusively, though, since I have seen results for some people change a bit as they mature and get to know themselves better. Sometimes people don’t want to choose answers that don’t seem acceptable to them for some reason, so as they mature a bit they may become more self-aware. So yes, I really do think it’s pretty accurate, and it has helped me structure groups up to a point. I do think sometimes the challenge of working outside our comfort zones is important, so I wouldn’t structure the group so everyone is totally unchallenged. It makes a good starting point, but not the absolute guide in my view.

  20. DavidP says:

    MBTI is based on Jung’s theory of personality and is designed to measure the characteristics that Jung regarded as the four key dimensions of personality. However, large scale academic research into personality, using factor analysis to identify the traits that combine together to determine our personalities, and that are distinct and independent from each other, has identified five factors (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism), and people are distributed normally along the two extremes (so most cluster around the middle), rather than their being a bi-modal distribution (as MBTI suggests) where you are either one end or the other.

    Furthermore, there are negatives associated with being at one or both extremes – you may want people to be Open to new ideas, so being at the closed end of the scale would be very negative, but someone who is constantly seeking out novelty for novelty’s sake would be real pain as well. Extremes on the neuroticism scale range from being over-emotional to being unemotional. Understanding your own personality is valuable, but I only see value in a personality inventory that is research-based (like the five factor model) rather than one designed to reflect a theory developed in the early part of the 20th century. Just as many (most?) of Freud’s theories have proven to be erroneous as we get to see how the brain actually works, I have little faith in his rebellious disciple’s theories of personality.

  21. Bob says:

    One should avoid, like the plague, any company that uses a personality test to understand their employees in place of actually taking the time to talk to them. People that deal with this are usually the ones that get used and abused by their employer.

  22. Howard says:

    The most it can do is reveal that different people approach things differently. However, at the age of 52 I had already figured that out a while ago…

  23. I took the MBTI about 10 years ago and found it amazing and very useful info for myself and for my staff. I attended the required training to qualify to administer it to others. it requires one spend time with the participant so that the results are clear and belong to the participant confidentially. If the type is shared it is done with this in mind, that being understood much can be gained in growth. by the individual and the group.

  24. col says:

    It is obvious to me that you have not thoroughly researched the MBTI. It’s uses go well beyond the corporate environment. If you are well trained in the instrument you will realize that it should not be used to put people in a box. Although it is the most well-researched and validated self-report instrument available, it allows for some variation in passage of time and self report accuracy. It was never intended to be a “you’re okay, I’m okay” tool. It is very helpful in understanding how you express yourself, energize yourself, gather information, make decisions and operate in the world. It also provides insight into what unhealthy tendencies you should be aware of and how you relate to others and yourself. Understanding how your shadow, etc. works can help you to avoid the self-destructive loop you tend to experience.

    In the corporate environment it should be used to help individuals understand and appreciate the differences and value of other’s types and processing. This may or may not be accepted by all but it is a start in reducing conflict.

    Obviously there are many people who abuse and generalize it’s uses. Being an advocate for the MBTI is not the same as promoting all of Jung’s theories. My experience is that psychologists have a tendency to lock on to the flavor of the month. The MBTI has stood the test of time and used in the right way is a valuable tool in many environments.

  25. Qubie says:

    Leave it to man’s self-importance that they actually delude themselves into believing they can quantify and classify the complexities associated wth a given huiman being. All these tests do is provide an excuse for untalented managers to subjugate their subordinates by using “broad-stroke” classifications as a means to dminish a person’s worth. THESE TEST SUCK and AMERICA REALLY SUCKS. Led by a bunch of sociopaths. If you’re not the 1%, submit to this testing… it’s your destiny. Slaves.

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