Chances are you’ve heard of and maybe taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test. Unfortunately, what it tells you is pretty much pointless.
I remember when I was at Deloitte, my whole cohort took the MBTI test to find out more about our working preferences. The test consists of 93 questions around four contrasting values (e.g. introversion vs extroversion) and from the 16 resulting “personality types” claims to be able to predict your preferred working and social style. Apparently 89% of the Fortune 100 companies conduct it, and often use the results to determine not only training requirements but sometimes even job placements for the individuals.
Which is terrible news, because the results have consistently been shown to be meaningless.
“There’s just no evidence behind it,” says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who’s written about the shortcomings of the Myers-Briggs previously. “The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you’ll be in a situation, how you’ll perform at your job, or how happy you’ll be in your marriage.”
Once you watch the video, you’ll see how the test has no basis in real psychology, is widely discredited by research (which found that as many as 50 percent of people arrive at a different result the second time they take a test, even if it’s just five weeks later) and is more a tool for entertainment than a performance indicator.
Most damningly, even the people running company which administers the test show that they don’t have much trust in the results and don’t use it in their own research. One of their board members, Stanford psychologist Carl E. Thoresen admitted:
I used it practically, but I didn’t use it in any of my research. In part because it would be questioned by my academic colleagues. That was always a barrier.
The main issue I have with it is that I’ve seen many instances when this test has influenced who is involved in innovation within companies.
Since the test only offers blunt, “yes or no” style questions to force you onto one end of a spectrum or another, what this creates is a situation where people are put into boxes. And in my view the most dangerous of those is people are either an Introvert or an Extrovert.
Extroverts vs Introverts
Actual data tells psychologists that these traits do not have a bimodal distribution. Tracking a group of people’s interactions with others, for instance, shows that as Jung noted, there aren’t really pure extroverts and introverts, but mostly people who fall somewhere in between.
But in reality, once team leaders and individuals have a piece of evidence like an MBTI result which tells them “I’m an extrovert” or “I’m an introvert”, it can begin to reinforce how they think about themselves and other people.
This is a real issue in brainstorming sessions or other idea generation sessions, where often the people invited are the loudest ones with the highest energy, who appear to come up with the most ideas during the session. Often managers think extroverts are better at this, so they are the ones involved in the process, especially as some more quiet colleagues can feel overshadowed by their louder compatriots and not find the right moment to share their ideas.
In reality, you’re not likely to get any more or better ideas by having these people in the room at the expense of more quiet colleagues. But again, this also harks back to some of the myths of brainstorming people still believe and is for a future article.
What’s more effective is to ensure that whichever way your company gathers ideas and runs its innovation programmes, it enables everyone to feel like they can contribute, no matter their energy levels and preferred working style.
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