MBTI is Misused and Misunderstood. Let Me Show You a Better Way. (UHD Part 2)
MBTI is an acronym for Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, in case you are not aware. It was developed by Isabel Briggs-Myers during WWII when she saw a need for a better guide than the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament Scale for connecting peoples’ personality traits to jobs. The basis for her development of MBTI stems from the research of her mother Katharine Cook-Briggs. Katharine’s work is based on refinements and the application of the work of Carl Jung’s research at the turn of the 20th Century. There, I did it. I forced myself to give the history of the most important and widely used personality characterization method in the world in one paragraph.
You have NO idea how hard that just was for me. You have to understand, I love this stuff and have invested well over 10,000 hours of time in the study of how the human brain works and thinks, and how behaviors manifest from childhood to adulthood. So when I get the opportunity to talk about it, I cannot do so without enlightening the listeners on the importance of Carl Jung. Jung was more than just the father of analytical psychology and the source code for what is MBTI; he was the most important contributor to the entire arena of psychology since Hippocrates and Plato. And as much as I would love to write only about Carl Jung, or the humbling irony of how MBTI came into existence in the first place, I will muzzle my typing fingers from going there. Instead, I will assume you can hang and genuinely want to better yourself and are willing to give me just a few minutes of your attention. Fair enough? You won’t be disappointed.
MBTI is confusing and far too often misunderstood and misused. When I am talking with people about MBTI, I always remind them what it is actually helping you understand about yourself, and others. That is, it only tells you how your brain:
1) prefers to organize and absorb the world,
2) tends to form opinions, beliefs, and decisions on that absorbed information and, most importantly:
3) how open (or closed!) it is to changing #2 when new information is provided.
That’s it. You can have a room of 100 of the same MBTI type and see for yourself how they are all uniquely different. All that they share in common is how their brain prefers to engage the world and subsequently make determinations on it. There can still be a mix of jack-wagons and genuinely caring people, open-minded or hard-headed, optimists as well as pessimists in that room.
This is the problem with our misuse of the “statistical individual” from the individual “individual.” MBTI is a statistical bucket of common traits and behaviors based on each combination of brain functions using MBTI (what I call the brain’s hardware and software.) Paraphrasing Jung from The Undiscovered Self, if the average weight of the pebbles in a river bed is 145 grams, this tells us very little about the real nature of each individual stone. Someone picking up a pebble expecting it to weigh 145 grams will likely be very disappointed. In fact, there may not be a single stone that weighs 145 grams.
MBTI’s 4 Dichotomies
Just in case you do not recall the specifics of MBTI, it is based on 4 dichotomies. Just to be sure that we are on the same page with what a dichotomy is, the definition is — a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different.
MBTI Problem #1:
Right out of the MBTI gate, the very first dichotomy is based on being Extroverted (E) versus Introverted (I). News flash — the majority of us are both, and in any given situation, it depends! Sure, there are those who will tell anyone that the world is too “peoply” for their liking; as much as there are those who would give up government secrets if confined to solitude for half a day. But for those of us in the bulk of the bell curve — we are both and, it depends. Any deeper digging should be reserved for big ticket hiring or marriage consideration.
MBTI Problem #2:
Without a doubt, it is Judging (J) versus Perceiving (P). Many, if not most are not exactly sure what it means. What is worse, is when someone thinks they know what it means. The J/P dichotomy is a manifestation of traits that are “statistical” in nature. In other words being ‘J’ or ‘P’ is an outcome of the other combinations of the trait dichotomies. Any other information you can get from spending time with the individual gives you the information that is not statistical. Only then may you say, “hmm, this person (pebble) is pretty close to 145 grams.” The point is, don’t worry so much about why you are a ‘J’ or, conversely, a ‘P’. Focus more on the bigger descriptive picture of your complete type. With that said, if you want to know how I use J/P here it is:
Those who have ‘J’ in their MBTI type live their life with some sense of responsibility — however, they may consciously — or unconsciously — define it.
Those with ‘P’ in their MBTI type live their life with some sense of performance — however, they may consciously — or unconsciously — define it.
This is important to understand when considering marriage or hiring a new big ticket player for the C-Suite. In day-to-day affairs, the J/P dichotomy is a secondary or tertiary consideration. In other words, the wrong mud hole to spin your wheels in.
MBTI Problem #3:
The Test itself is as worthless as a toothless yard goat. The 16 profile descriptions tell you more about you than anything else. Therefore, DO NOT TAKE THE TEST. In my experience, more than half of the people who have taken the test got the wrong results and therefore never made the connection to its value. This happened to me the first time. The instructor said, “interesting, you are the same type as the VP of R&D.” I thought to myself “are you kidding me? There is no way that can be true.” And, of course, it turned out that I was the exact opposite of what I tested.
This is because most of the questions 0f the MBTI test are hard to answer. When taking the test many people would prefer to have a 3rd choice called “it depends.” Most people take this test at work. Therefore, they are answering as their “perceived selves” or rather, how they want to be perceived by their employers. The results would be far more accurate if each person took the test for their closest co-worker and vice versa. If you have never taken the test, here are 3 example test questions:
Would you say you are more serious and determined or easy-going?
Are you more comfortable making logical judgments or value judgments?
In Judging others, are you more swayed by laws than circumstances or circumstances than laws?
Just picking out 3 of them to use here literally hurt my brain. I repeated “WTF” in my head — which is what most people do when taking the test.
The best way to start learning about MBTI is to sit down on a weekend morning with a cup of coffee and no distractions, a printout of all 16 MBTI types and a pen. Read them one by one. Your morning fix of Hulu or Netflix can wait. I promise you that one of them will literally reach out and grab your face like the dinner scene in Beetlejuice. There’s your test! And for fun, while reading them, jot down the names of people who seem to fit the descriptions as you read each one.
Now, the biggest problem with MBTI is what you see here: the list of possible outcomes of the 4 dichotomies for a total of 16 personality types.
And why is this the BIGGEST problem?
Because it is only showing you what your potential is. It does not direct your attention to who you have been since birth and what your dominant “1,2 combination” is. As you scan from the top down for each MBTI type, you see 4 circles decreasing in size. This decreasing in size is at least indicative of what your dominant functions are, relative to your undeveloped ones.
So if for example, you are an ISTJ, you have Introverted Sensing as the #1 of your 1,2 combination. Extroverted Thinking is then the #2 “punch” if you will. But just stop there. The 3rd and 4th functions are merely the opportunity to develop in your lifetime. You are not born with such unprecedented brain ambidexterity. If by chance you are, please, please, please contact me. I want to study you like a living, breathing, English-speaking purple unicorn.
The way MBTI is presented suggests that everyone has “brain ambidexterity.” Technically speaking, it is hard to prove that it is not at least “arguable” right? Think about it. Let’s say, for example, if you were to “render” someone’s dominant arm “unavailable” for long enough, that person would become impressively functional with their non-dominant side. (I said “render” which doesn’t mean to physically remove one’s arm!) They will never use it as well as their dominant side but, undoubtedly and ambidextrously, it will nonetheless still function. This is similar to how a blind person can develop echolocation — a method of sound to see what is around them. Yes, like a real-life Batman. This has to be the most amazing human feat I have ever seen.
Learning to function in society while being blind, deaf or without hands or legs exemplifies what someone can do with their brain when it experiences “what doesn’t kill you (your brain) makes you (your brain) stronger.” This is why MBTI’s 4 functions per type of the 16 total are misleading. Many never go through enough conditions and circumstances to develop beyond the 1,2 combination they were given at birth.
You do not develop your brain’s potential when life is handed to you or you become jaded towards the world.
Let me try to explain it this way —
Alan Greenspan (Fed Chairman from 1987–2006) repeatedly told the Congressional committee something profound during his many updates on the “state of the economy.” He said that up until the 4th grade, science and math grades in the United States are at the top in the world. From the 4th through to the 12th grade, they drop precipitously.
Hmm…. Why would that be? Should we go into a conference room and dump our collective ignorance on the table and align on a factual position to bronze? (insert an emoji that captures sickness, sorrow, disgust, and frustration all into one.)
So why the 4th grade? What is so special about the 4th grade?
You are roughly 10 years old. You have enough “dots in your box” for your brain to either interpolate the world (Sensing) or extrapolate the world (iNtuition). I have a previous blog on the brain hardware of sensing/interpolation and intuition/extrapolation titled The Dangers of Collective Ignorance in the Meeting Room.
Here is a recap —
By roughly the 4th grade, you have enough experiences, knowledge, beliefs, biases or indoctrinated rules with which to start grabbing the straps of your brain as it starts to gallop for the first time. That’s it. Greenspan was merely telling us something matter of factly. It says our education system does “ah-ite” until it starts to fail year after year after the 4th grade. Creating a disease called ADHD and having medication for it helps. However taking the (proverbial or actual) windows out of the school to help kids pay better attention does not.
So here’s how to use MBTI without losing the critical roots of Jung’s foundational work. Work that incidentally, led to Sigmund Freud taking his ball and going home from the playground. We will call this MBTI 2.0.
There are 2 possible brain operating systems, so to speak. These are either the hardware functions of Sensing (S) or iNtuition (N). Then, there are only 2 options for the software functions — Feeling (F) or Thinking (T). That’s it. You get one of each at birth and you can thank your biological parents for what you have. Note, the order of which comes first, hardware or software can be different. This is crucially important and will be covered by future blogs.
The difference in how I use MBTI 2.0 is to eliminate the confusion that gets misused and misunderstood. ‘E’ versus ‘I’ is a layer you can add with time and practice and is never an out-of-the-gate consideration when you have five minutes to get someone to hear and understand what you have to say. If you leave the E/I and J/P out of it, you have only 8 possible combinations. This is what you get at birth, what takes you up to, through and beyond that inflection year called the 4th grade and will be your brain’s dominant 1,2 combination for the rest of your life. This is your dominant go-to when in need and it is your safe place when under duress. This is who you are.
The rest is what happens from there. MBTI gives you a much different picture, that can be misleading to many. What makes it even worse is when someone thinks they understand it. When you think you have something profound figured out, what do you do? You convince others of what you now believe you know! Now you are sharing and influencing others who, referring back to what MBTI is actually telling you (above), might indoctrinate #2 so when #3 presents itself, it gets discredited. You are taking a wonderful tool and using it the wrong way. Worse, you are teaching others how to use the same tool the wrong way. So let’s start with MBTI 2.0 — it only shows you the 1,2 combination of brain hardware/software combination options you start with from birth, and subsequently start to own at around the 4th grade.
There is a lot more to come from me on MBTI 2.0, so stay tuned. Your questions and comments are needed so I can incorporate them as I reveal what I promise will change your life in a positive way. But if you just want to read it, I am okay with that too. That’s why I am writing it! As always, my email is email@example.com if you want to reach me or follow me on FB at https://www.facebook.com/TheUHD/ or learn more about our seminars, workshops and services at www.up-factorllc.com.