Myers-Briggs again

One of my special readers, Charles Lowe, recently sent me an article from the Guardian, What personality are you? How the Myers-Briggs test took over the world, asking for comments. I am not a regular reader of the Guardian but I confess the author, Elle Hunt, has written an excellent piece.

The article confirms what I have said in previous blogs; the reason people are particularly committed to the first people profiling technique they learn is that the learning process it is a moment of very high emotional epiphany.  For many people, including myself, it is a key “Ah-ha” moment in their life similar in emotionality to marriage and the birth of their children.  This emotional commitment strengthens as the person uses the profiling method to classify other people.  The article quotes the experience Professor Merve Emre, Frank Winters, and Maggie Oglesby as supporting evidence.

The popularity of Myer-Briggs (MBTI) is indeed staggering, annual revenues for the Myers-Briggs Company are $20m.  Eighty-eight of the Fortune 100 companies use the system.  Over 2 million people take the official test annually and over 50 million have taken the test.

According to Emre one major reason for the success is that Briggs Myers grasped that the MBTI would be more effective if it showed everyone to be good at something.  Another reason its popularity is the rise of the internet, there are numerous MBTI sites and it has become the profiling system of choice.

The article does a good job of questioning the science behind the MBTI, saying noting it is a type theory compared to a trait theory like the Five-Factor Model or the 7MTF.  And I was amused when Hunt took the ‘official’ test and discovered that for years she had been describing herself as the ‘wrong’ type.

However, for me perhaps the most dangerous flaw is that it fails to recognise corporate psychopaths.  This recent article from BBC.Com People with a high degree of narcissism get promoted faster, new research shows. Why? provides a good summary of the problem.  Overall, someone with a high degree of narcissism was around 29% faster in their career progression to the position of CEO, compared to the average candidate of similar qualifications.  Yet the personality test used by 88 of the Fortune 100 companies fails to screen them out.

In my lifetime the greatest “mistake” by a Professional Services Organisation would have to be the collapse of Arthur Andersen. The company regarded as the Gold Standard in the USA for ethics and corporate governance went from 85,000 employees to 16 in 2002.  At the  International Congress for Emotional Intelligence held in Perth in July 2019 I presented a paper arguing that the real cause of this collapse was that it used the MBTI as its profiling tool and failed to screen out a corporate psychopath from becoming the CEO.

This blog first published on LinkedIn on 23 September 2021



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