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 contains 16 distinct types of people based on personality traits. 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 the personality traits of individuals 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 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 MBTI. He was the most important contributor to the entire field 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, 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 with others. That is, MBTI 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!) the brain 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 actual individual. MBTI is a statistical bucket of common traits and behaviors based on each combination of brain functions (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.

Each person will have a dominant lean towards one side of each of these.

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 any length of time. But for those of us in the bulk of the bell curve, we are both and, it depends. Trying to dig any deeper to understand someone’s first dichotomy according to MBTI should be reserved for big ticket items like hiring key talent 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. 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 either (J) or (P.) Focus more on the bigger descriptive picture of your complete MBTI 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.

In day-to-day affairs, the J/P dichotomy should not be a top consideration for understanding other’s personality traits. In other words, this is the wrong mud hole to spin your wheels.

MBTI Problem #3:

The Test itself is as worthless as a toothless yard goat. The 16 MBTI 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 of 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 these three example questions hurts my brain. I cannot comprehend how these could be anything other than “it depends.”

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 binge of catching up on your Netflix series 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 four 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 is your dominant “1,2 combination.” As you scan from the top down for each MBTI type, you see four circles decreasing in size. This decreasing in size indicates your dominant functions relative to your undeveloped ones.

So, 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 four functions per type of the 16 total are misleading. Many never go through enough conditions and circumstances in their life 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 —

The humble irony is I don’t watch CSPAN. Ever. But in the late 1990's through first almost decade of the 2000’s, hotel TV’s would turn on with channels like CSPAN. Because of this, I caught Greenspan saying the same thing on 2 or 3 occasions. It was profound, so I treasured it.

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.)

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.)

Let me explain —

By roughly the 4th grade you have had enough experiences, knowledge, beliefs, biases, and 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 to prescribe to children who struggle to learn in a one-size-fits-all system seems ludicrous does it 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 two possible brain hardware operating systems, so to speak. These are either the functions of Sensing (S) or iNtuition (N.) Then, there are only two 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 that spends the next ten years adding the“dots into the box” until that inflection year called the 4th grade. This will be your brain’s dominant 1,2 combination for the rest of your life. This is your go-to when in need and it is your safe place when under duress. This is who you are.

Who you become in life depends on what happens from there. MBTI gives you a much different picture that can be very misleading. What makes it worse is when someone thinks they understand MBTI. When you think you have figured out something profound, what do you do? You convince others of what you now believe you know! Now, you are 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.

Once you understand the simplicity of MBTI 2.0, then you can learn how the 6 Factors of Ultimate Potential determine to what extent you have further developed your brain’s functions capacity since the 4th grade.

Kelly Williams kellyw@up-factorllc.com, www.up-factorllc.com