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MBTI personality testing - not all it's cracked up to be?

25 September 2013

It is interesting how several story lines often converge at the same time.   A friend of ours has been slowly working his way up the ladder of success within a large government department, sometimes more slowly than he feels he should be.

That in itself can be frustrating, but he recently attended a well-known and popular leadership school in Australia and emerged feeling as though he needed to lick his wounds, and also very frustrated for reasons he could not put his finger on.  

When he was at the school, he did not articulate this frustration, but went along with what he was being told about himself.  After all, he was surrounded by experts,and they would know.

Several weeks later, over dinner, he was finally able to outline the basis for his frustration, and it was this:

The psychological testing component that he was given (The MBTI) was glossy, and extensive, and seemed to explain almost every aspect of human behaviour.  But he is a trained psychologist, and he has taken part in the MBTI assessment on a number of previous occasions - often being told he is a different personality type from one year to the next.

The world changes, and experience changes us, but he felt that surely he did not change that much from year to year.

The second frustration was deeper and more challenging for him.  He is a curious person, who is always looking to better himself, and the MBTI, whilst providing insight into what he should be doing once he recognises certain personality types, did not necessarily give him any utility coming out of the course.  His question was - what is the use of it?

He felt that it wasn't a tool for him to use in leadership.  It was a tool for him to be judged and for him to judge others, and that is where its utility lay.   He took it further and had done some research into the reliability, validity and consistency of the MBTI.  

We were able to point him to The Big Five Personality Traits (OCEAN)  factors as an alternative framework for working with personality.   At New Intelligence we use OCEAN as a benchmark in our work, because what comes from it is useability, consistency, validity and capacity to take action.

At about the same time, this article came across our desk from Adam Grant, so we put the two together - because we are Open and Conscientious and Extraverted, Agreeable and mildly Neurotic.  So please, enjoy.

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