The MBTI is flawed! Oh no it isn’t! Oh yes it is! Let’s move on...

Posted 25 Sep 2013 by TeriSmith

There aren’t many things we can be certain of in life: death, taxes (well, for most of us), and the sure and certain knowledge that every few months, someone will publish an article revealing the secrets of how awful the MBTI tool is. The latest spat began as a post by the academic and test author Adam Grant. Of course, we couldn’t leave this uncorrected, and Rich Thompson of CPP (among others) posted a carefully reasoned riposte. Quick as a flash (am I being suspicious here, or was there something already half-prepared?), the reply came back.

Now, you might be expecting me to write another post refuting Grant’s points, so that he could then post another and so on, until we all run out of energy or until the next “hey, guess what, the MBTI tool is flawed” post comes along. But frankly, there are better things that we could all do with our time. 

No personality tool is perfect. For example, let’s take the well-known Big Five model that underlies Grant’s own proprietary system. While there has in the past been a lot of academic consensus around the Big Five, some theorists now claim that we should really only be talking about a Big One, whereas other studies (including OPP’s own research) show that when it actually comes to using trait-based questionnaires, a more detailed model gives more useful information. There is a danger that as we become more and more esoteric in our arguments, we only end up putting off those who have most to gain from a deeper knowledge of human personality. 

You can see this happening in one LinkedIn group I frequent (not an MBTI group). Ostensibly, the group is about using tests and questionnaires in organisations, but it has become clogged up with back-and-forth arguments between the proponents of the Big Five, MBTI, DISC and other tools. Every now and then someone new comes along and asks a reasonable question, such as “What questionnaire could I use for development?”, and is immediately attacked with heavy sarcasm, or finds themselves at the centre of a complicated theoretical argument. The result? They go away, probably to go back to what they were doing before – not using any psychometric instrument – and everybody loses.

So what is to be done? Well, organisations like CPP and OPP absolutely have a duty to respond to criticisms and defend our tools, but we shouldn’t forget that ultimately we are here to help practitioners use the insights that instruments such as the MBTI questionnaire can bring. Tempting as it is to get involved in an intellectual debate, it is more important to look at how we can help the practitioners who use the MBTI instrument. There are a number of things that we can do here, but one of our key initiatives is a piece of research that looks at the bottom line for your business or the businesses you consult with: what is the evidence that using a MBTI-based intervention has business impact and offers a good return on investment? If you would like to take part in this research, please do get in touch.

It’s also crucial to remember that success in using psychometrics comes from using the right tool for the right job. For example, the MBTI approach is designed to be used solely in development. For recruitment, trait-based tools are more suitable; questionnaires such as the 16PF measure the Big Five, but also give more detailed personality information. So let’s move on from the zero-sum game of point-scoring, and concentrate on how we can actually use tools like the MBTI questionnaire – or any other tool with good psychometric properties – to actually help make a difference for people and organisations.

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