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

Adam McKibbin

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.

19 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

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