Myers-Briggs is a Crock

by Ron

This is the title of a Wall Street Journal article written by Steven Poole doing a book review of Dean Burnett’s new book Idiot Brain.  Actually Idiot Brain needs to become the title of a future blog as well.  I can’t wait to read his book.

But, is Myers-Briggs a crock?  Poole says that Burnett “eloquently dismantles some pop-psychology canards such as Myers-Briggs personality test, still a favored corporate tool.  “The tool is based on untested decades-old assumptions put together by enthusiastic amateurs, working from a single source.”



Why does it remain a favored corporate tool?  I don’t see many corporations these days spending money that they don’t believe provides any value.  No Myers-Briggs practitioner worth their salt ever claims the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to be anything other than a great tool for understanding people.  We never claim it to be (or shouldn’t be making such claims) anything other than a model put together by two enthusiastic amateurs.

I had one experience when my client, a senior VP of a large pharmaceutical company, asked me to do some team building with her team.  One of her direct reports was a psychiatrist and ran the psychiatric department for the company.  When she heard that I was going to conduct a Myers-Briggs session she sent me a scathing email proclaiming many of the same issues as Burnett:

  • Invalidated testing
  • Decades old
  • Based on assumptions
  • Created by amateurs

My only answer to her was, “Humor me.  Your boss asked me to conduct the session.”  Well, after the session where the team seemed to learn a great deal about working better together, this same psychiatrist approached me very quietly, put her hand on my arm and spoke very softly into me ear saying, “Would you come run a session like this for my team, we could really use it.”

It’s a tool, a mental model.  One of my favorite bloggers is Shane Parish at Farnam Street.  In his Farnam Street Brain Food he often speaks of Mental Models.  This is how Shane puts it:

“Mental models are a framework for understanding how the world really works. They help you grasp new ideas quickly, identify patterns before anyone else and shift your perspective with ease.”

In my mind Myers-Briggs is simply one of these mental model tools.  I just conducted a session last week with about 20 participants.  As I walk through each process described in the model people always start laughing and enjoying themselves because they immediately see the examples in themselves and each other.  As Shane says, it’s a quick way of identifying patterns and shifting our perspective.  I’ve never finished a session without people telling me how much they learned and how they believe it can immediately help them negotiate their corporate, community and family relationships better.  Now that’s a useful tool, even if it was put together by a couple of enthusiastic amateurs.


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