In my very first Team Manager role early in my career, my employer put all of us through the Myers-Briggs personality test (also known as MBTI).
It said I was quite introverted and thinking more than feeling. About a year later, they put us through the test again and I had morphed into a much more extroverted person, who was now more feeling than thinking.
The Call Centre Manager proudly advised me that the dramatic change was due to their investment in me as a ‘leader’ and evidence that the development of my managerial skills was working.
Which is all very nice.
But it turns out, that the Myers-Briggs testing is not really based on any kind of recognizable science. I think we all assume it was, since it’s been so heavily adopted in business but uh uh – not true.
Did you know that it was developed by daughter and mother, Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs during the second world war with the intention of producing a useful test that would allow women entering the workforce to be assigned jobs that would be best suited to their personalities (oh dear!)?
Yes – they did a great job of building on the work of Jung and probably helped lots of woman (and men) return to the post-war workforce. But the world has moved on. At least, the science world has.
Myers-Briggs is unscientific. It doesn’t recognize other traits and splits everything into black and white (can’t I be both a ‘thinking’ and a ‘feeling’ person?). It’s not repeatable… the same person taking the same test is only around 50% likely to get the same result. So when I completed the test as a young manager, the difference in my results was less to do with my development and more to do with how I felt at the time.
So why has business adopted it so heavily? You’d be hard-pressed to find an experienced manager who hasn’t heard of it, or indeed completed the test at least once…
I call this the horoscope effect. Horoscopes work because they talk about personality traits we all have and they are overwhelmingly positive. We all recognize a little of ourselves in each horoscope:
Horoscope: You, my dear Virgos are compassionate and generous.
Person: I am compassionate and generous! You so get me.
The other reason it prevails is that it is so widely adopted and well known. Over 2 million people take the test each year. It’s the “if everyone is using it – it must be true” adage.
My old Call Centre Manager certainly did develop my management skills. But I’m not sure they needed to pay for the Myers-Briggs testing to prove it.
One thing, I have certainly learned to question everything. Next time someone suggests using Myers-Briggs in your organisation, take a moment to think about what outcome you are looking for and perhaps explore some other ways of getting there.