On Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Type Talk At Work is the last one in the series of books on Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI) that I have read. The first book Gifts Differing, by Myers, is  my favorite among the three. The other two, both by Broeger and Thuesen, contain more description, more application, and less theory than the book by Myers. Given my preference for abstraction (N-type), it is not a surprise that I prefer the book by Myers.

I was drawn to MBTI initially because of its use in helping me sorting out career choices. Soon afterwards I realized that it embodies a whole new way of looking at the world. While learning and reading it, I started apply it in my own life. Five years has past since then. The experience has been hugely rewarding.

Self-knowledge is difficult to obtain. MBTI provides a pathway to it. I was, like many others who first learn about the theory, amazed at how accurate some of the descriptions are (and it’s not based on horoscope). My type is at the crossover from ENTJ to INTJ. The basic one-line descriptors are “life’s natural leaders” for ENTJ and “life’s independent thinkers” for INTJ. Both of them fit my experience extremely well. Other more detailed descriptions that speak right to my heart include 1) “the entire world seems like a chessboard”,  2) “Life is a system of forces to be understood, mastered, harnessed, altered, or defeated”, 3) “especially gifted with language”, 4) “relaxation does not come easily”, 5) “robust, direct and hearty strategists”, 6) “might listen to another’s tale of woe with genuine empathy, then moments later say something totally unrelated and seemingly uncaring”, 7) “success is measured in terms of what is accomplished, not in terms of how much one is liked by others”, 8 ) “biggest drawbacks are their arrogance, their impatience, and their insensitivity”. 9) “perpetual students”, 10) “become stressed from being bombarded by too many details”. The nice thing about self-knowledge is that after knowing myself, I can take steps to prevent pitfalls that my weakness might result. Exercising the non-preferred traits are not easy at first, but after a while, it gradually becomes enjoyable and relaxing. Attempts on computer graphics (S, F), martial arts (S, P), and fictions (S, F, P) are my efforts to develop my non-preferred traits. I think I am making good progress so far.

Besides self-knowledge, MBTI also provides me a framework to describe the differences in people and helps me to understand others from their viewpoints. To be fair, it is only a fragment of the whole picture on human nature, but it does give a concise and systematic perspective to the messy picture. It is a convenient starting point for me. After I figure out what my types are, I naturally started to observe and identify the types of my family members, my coworkers, and other people around me, and not long after that, people in fictions and movies. It was fun at times, but mostly just convenience. It frequently frees me from bothering myself with questions such as “why does she/he do that?” Identifying types of movie characters is by far the most interesting type-watching experiences, especially given the fact that most actors and actresses are S-F-P types, the exact opposite of mine. It’s been said that the opposite attracts. Sometimes I can be carried away by a movie, or a character in a movie, but later, almost to my own amusement, I realized that they are attractive, but just not my “type” (yes, I used a pun!).

I can see why type-watching can be addictive. However, there is a danger in over-doing it.  I have done my fair share of mistakes in over-reaching its effectiveness (such as blowing up a potential date). It is a nice theory, in theory. However, it can be used wrongly. Wikipedia page on MBTI has a nice critique section on its scientific validity and reliability. To be critical on this issue, MBTI qualifies less for a scientific theory (because it hedges too much on its prediction that it almost cannot be falsified), but more for a systematic and intuitive description of human traits. But I think the biggest mistake in applying MBTI is to assume that a description of a type completes the description of a person. There is far more things in a human being that it cannot explain than that it can. Other influences such as religion, culture, and upbringing, among many others, contribute to a person’s unique identity. Which is one of the reasons that I don’t like the other two books as much. The subtitles of those two books read “The 16 Personality Types That Determine How We Live, Love, and Work” and “The 16 Personality Types That Determine Your Success on the Job”. They do not “determine”. They influence, sometimes to a big extent, but never determine.

At the end of Gifts Differing, Myers give an idealistic “Looking to the Future”: “I have looked at the world from the standpoint of type for more than fifty years and have found the experience constantly rewarding. An understanding of type can be rewarding for society, too. It is not too much to hope that wider and deeper understanding of the gifts of diversity may eventually reduce the misuse and nonuse of those gifts. It should lessen the waste of potential, the loss of opportunity, and the number of dropouts and delinquents….Whatever the circumstances of your life, whatever your personal ties, work, and responsibilities, the understanding of type can make your perception cleaner, your judgment sounder, and your life closer to your heart’s desire. ” I believe this hope speaks truthfully to the inventors’ heart more than anything else, a hope for a better world through understanding of differences and realizing each individual’s full potential. This is indeed what I get the most from her theory.

PS. I was wondering why my old posts on Gifts Differing did not show up in the Related Posts, and then realized that they were written before I moved my blog to wordpress. Here they are, the book summary of Gifts Differing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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Wendong Wang

A chemist who blogs

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