If the MBTI was a person, would it embody lifelong learning?

Posted 08 Mar 2013 by John Hackston, Head of R&D at OPP
Intelligent older lady

As you may have heard, the MBTI questionnaire turns 70 this year; the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a long way from retirement, however. It is a sprightly septuagenarian, able to draw on all the wisdom accumulated during those seven decades, yet still able to adapt and change.

In many ways, the development of the MBTI questionnaire itself mirrors what MBTI theory says about how people develop through their lifetime. To illustrate this, let’s look first at how we develop as individuals. This is all based around the dynamics of each type. If you are not familiar with type dynamics concepts, read the section at the end of this article. Otherwise, read on!

Jung's lifecycle from specialisation to midlifeJung suggested that everyone has an inborn drive to develop and become the best version of themselves that they can be. This means that each type has its own path to lifelong development, starting with developing the dominant function, then the auxiliary, then  the tertiary and finally the fourth (or ’inferior’) function.

This might sound a little abstract, so let’s apply it. And just for fun, rather than apply this to a person, I’m going to apply it to the MBTI instrument itself. If we are going to look at the personality of a ‘thing’, I thought it would be interesting to use the personality type of the author of the questionnaire, Isabel Briggs Myers, to do this. Isabel had preferences for INFP, so:

So what next for the MBTI tool? Through its first 70 years it has enjoyed considerable personal development, and is now in the prime of life: better developed than any other personality instrument on the market.

The second part of life can be the time when we truly become ourselves, integrating all of our functions together to achieve wisdom (Nancy Barger’s recent webcast on this topic has some fascinating insights). For MBTI users, this offers the possibility of continual renewal, with practice based on an established tool with a depth of research and theory, together with an unrivalled range of resources to support its application to all walks of life. But we are not complacent, and understand that development is not something that stops when a particular goal is reached. So while the MBTI tool may have reached this magnificent milestone, it will continue to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of people around the world, with new approaches to measurement and new resources and techniques to help individuals and groups follow their own developmental path.

An explanation of type dynamics

In developing his theory of psychological type, upon which the MBTI instrument is founded, Carl Jung suggested that at any one time we might be doing one of two things:

We might be taking in information from the environment, a process that Jung called Perceiving. There are two different ways in which we might do this:

Camera with close-up of flower

Camera zoomed out to see view

OR we might be making a decision or judgment on the basis of this information, a process that Jung called Judging. Again, there are two different ways in which we might do this:

 Head over heart

Heart over head

We all use all four of these functions, but there will be one of these that we use and trust most (our dominant function), and one we use in a support role to the dominant (our auxiliary function). By adulthood, the goal is to have both these functions well developed so that we have a reliable way of taking in information and of making decisions. In the second half of life, we integrate our less preferred functions (the ones that do not appear in our four-letter type code); these are our tertiary function and fourth or inferior functions).

For more information on this area, Introduction to Type Dynamics and Development is a good starting point.

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