Which Four-Letter Type Are You? And Should You Care?
Is the Myers-Briggs system of 16 personality types on a level with zodiac signs? Some points to ponder.
In the Myers-Briggs (or MBTI) typology of personalities, I’m INTJ. That means: I – I’m introverted (versus extroverted); N – I’m intuitive (vs. sensing); T – I’m a thinker (vs. a feeler) ; and J – I judge what’s around me (vs. perceiving). The narrative profile for this personality type sure sounds like me: strategic and analytical rather than showy, unafraid to challenge orthodoxies, hungry for knowledge, indifferent to others’ opinions and having a strong work ethic.
Origin of the Myers-Briggs Personality Typology
Created in 1943 by the mother-daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, the Myers-Briggs assessment put into multiple-choice form some ideas of psychologist Carl Jung. According to the magazine Fast Company, 89 of the 100 largest companies in America use it to help employees work better with one another. By understanding how people are inherently different, the idea goes, you can better play to co-workers’ strengths instead of cursing their quirks.
Critics say, however, that this typology has never been scientifically validated. It doesn’t produce consistent results over time and doesn’t predict anyone’s behavior or experiences. Its questions falsely imply that people are either X or Y when personality traits actually exist in degrees. Furthermore, scoffers note that Jung was a theoretician rather than a research scientist, while Briggs and Myers had no academic credentials whatsoever. In short, critics say Myers-Briggs belongs in the trash bin.
Though I can’t say why most Fortune 100 companies use Myers-Briggs despite those flaws, I can cite a few reasons why I find this personality classification system helpful.
Benefits of the Myers-Briggs System of Types
First, for real individuals and even for characters in novels or movies it absolutely does nail a constellation of qualities, and it provides a convenient shorthand for referring to them. There’s widespread agreement, for instance, that Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Professor Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes stories and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings are INTJ, like me. Real people said to share that personality type include novelist Ayn Rand, Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, super-scientist Sir Isaac Newton and investment giant Warren Buffet. To me it’s crystal clear what all these folks have in common.
Knowing your Myers-Briggs type thus gives you a concept of how you can best succeed in life, along with indications of possible weaknesses or challenges. It makes sense of why you gravitate toward or away from certain activities, have certain reactions to events and differ from other people in your world in significant ways. The Myers & Briggs Foundation can even tell you how prevalent your personality type is. According to their statistics, only 2.1 percent of Americans are INTJ. (The most prevalent type is ISFJ – intuitive/sensing/feeling/judging – at 13.8 percent. Think of singer Aretha Franklin, president George H. W. Bush or civil rights icon Rosa Parks.)
Criticism of Myers-Briggs
According to Merve Emre, author of The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing, personality tests “annihilate individuality” and “conscript [people] into the bureaucratic hierarchies of the workplace, the school, the church, the state, and even their own families. [The MBTI] is among the silliest, shallowest cultural products of late capitalism.”
I don’t agree. Just to understand that you have certain tendencies and approach life the way Warren Buffet or Warren Beatty or Elizabeth Warren does doesn’t dehumanize either you or them. Any theory of human differences can be used to corral people into boxes or to regiment them in line with the boxes, but it doesn’t have to. Sorting personalities into types is not inherently evil, and I don’t see anything silly about it, either.
The Upshot on Myers-Briggs
“Type is about how people reach their own special kind of excellence,” Isabel Briggs Myers once said. “Not what’s wrong with people.” That’s one reason why I feel comfortable with Myers-Briggs. The assessment not only respects but celebrates psychological diversity, reminding us to adjust to human variation in others and ourselves. Accordingly, if you find value in knowing which of the 16 types you match with best, fine. If you don’t, you can still take away its message that no one set of tendencies deserves to rule the world or earn our appreciation.