It was a rite of passage when I was in college, everyone took the Myers-Briggs personality test. Turns out I was an INFJ. 🙂
Chances are you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or will. Roughly 2 million people a year do. It has become the gold standard of psychological assessments, used in businesses, government agencies and educational institutions. Along the way, it has spawned a multimillion-dollar business around its simple concept that everyone fits one of 16 personality types.
Now, 50 years after the first time anyone paid money for the test, the Myers-Briggs legacy is reaching the end of the family line. The youngest heirs don’t want it. And it’s not clear whether organizations should, either.
The Myers-Briggs has been exceedingly popular since its release around 50 years ago and since then more than “10k companies, 2,500 colleges and universities and 200 government agencies” have used the test.
One small problem. Turns out science researchers are questioning (and have been for a long time) the validity of it.
Yet despite its widespread use and vast financial success, and although it was derived from the work of Carl Jung, one of the most famous psychologists of the 20th century, the test is highly questioned by the scientific community.
So, what’s the problem?
“What concerns me is the cultlike devotion of many consultants and practitioners to it without the examination of the evidence,” says Adam Grant, a professor of industrial psychology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
Despite the far-reaching use of the assessment in organizations, the academic psychological community has been slow to embrace it. No major journal has published research on the MBTI, which academics consider a strong repudiation of the test’s authority. What makes this even more striking is that CPP has three prominent psychologists on its corporate board — Carl Thoresen, Wayne Cascio and Christina Maslach — who presumably could have used their stature in the field to help.
Academics would contend that is precisely Myers-Briggs biggest flaw: It’s about belief much more than scientific evidence. And it’s administered by leadership coaches who, by and large, have no formal education in the science of psychology.
“People like it because it reveals something they didn’t know about themselves or others,” says Wharton’s Grant. “That could be true of a horoscope, too.”
Even Katharine Downing Myers concedes that “psychologists had no use for the indicator; they felt that Jung was a crazy mystic.”
Today the copyright holder of the test is old and younger family members are disinterested in the project.
Katharine recently retired from the meetings but still gets the notes.
She lives by herself in a two-bedroom cottage in a Quaker retirement community just outside Kennett Square, Pa. It is 25 miles from where she was born 86 years ago, and 25 miles from where she met Peter.
When they die, the copyright will go to the Myers-Briggs Foundation, which funds research and helps maintain the nonprofit Center for Applications of Psychological Type. They both have children from separate marriages, but “they won’t be putting into it what Peter and I do,” Katharine says. “For Peter and me, it became our life’s work.”
When asked if he is sad his children won’t carry on the family legacy, Peter replies, “Yes, but that’s the luck of the draw.”
And so the old pair made the decision to end the line here.
Among the Quaker cottages, where Katharine intends to live out the last of her years, she still feels the presence of Myers-Briggs. She has started a small group of retirees who meet to talk about Carl Jung’s theory and the indicator that has been such a force in her life.
“It was a family that didn’t think you had to go to a class to learn something,” Katharine recalls of her mother and grandmother-in-law. “You could just learn it on your own.”
The 2,500 people who got their Myers-Briggs certification last year likely agree.
It’s a fascinating read, highly recommended if you’ve ever (or are planning) on taking the Myers-Briggs or other personality tests.