It seems like if you want to sound serious and get attention on a subject you declare war on it. Not in any particular order, we have had heard about wars on:
• Leaf blowers – the noisy gas fueled kind.
When you consider the list, there are actually two kinds of war assertions: 1) those who want to attack something in a war like fashion like drugs, terror and leaf blowers; and 2) those contending that something they hold dear is being unfairly assaulted. This second category includes Christmas, science, women and football. I know grouping a holiday, an academic field, a gender and a sport sounds ridiculous. But, so is the loose use of the war metaphor.
With this post, I am, with tongue in cheek, joining the second category of defenders and charging that there is a war being waged on the MBTI. Here is my case.
The war on the MBTI began with an article in the Washington Post in 2012 by Lillian Cunningham titled, Myers-Briggs: Does it Pay to Know Your Type. Some of the key contributors to that article like Adam Grant and David Pittenger continued to take shots at the MBTI in outlets like Forbes and the Huffington Post in 2013. The assaults continued that year with a piece in the Harvard Business Review by Halvorson and Higgins who claim to have a superior personality model that replaces the sixteen types of the MBTI with just two. No, it is not men from Mars and women from Venus. Rather, it is what they call prevention focused types and promotion focused ones.
Before I list what I consider the most common criticisms followed by my rebuttals, I want to follow President Obama’s lead by asserting, “I know something about this.” The President made that comment in response to criticisms that he was violating the constitution with his executive actions to promote gun safety. The Harvard educated Obama used to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago. My pedigree pales in comparison, but part of my doctoral dissertation was cross-validating a standardized test and I used to teach psychological testing.
Criticism: The MBTI does not predict.
Rebuttal: Correct, it does not. Nor, does it profess to. The MBTI is an explication of Carl Jung’s personality theory. As even critics will acknowledge, understanding of personality similarities and differences can be very useful in endeavors like leadership development. But, no, the MBTI is not predictive tool.
Criticism: MBTI results are not correlated with career performance.
Rebuttal: There is a subset of attacks on the MBTI as a test for predicting career performance. Again, the MBTI was never designed nor intended to predict performance and its publisher is quite clear that it deals with personality preferences and not abilities. It even warns against using the MBTI for personnel selection.
While the MBTI was developed to explicate Jung’s theory, there are other assessments that were designed specifically as career guidance tools. Holland and Strong lead the pack here. Personally, as someone who has done career counseling, I think Holland’s assessment is pretty good. But, even the research on Holland and Strong shows their models may predict career satisfaction, but not performance.
Criticism: Because the MBTI does not predict, it is invalid.
Rebuttal: Hogwash. Some tests are designed to predict. Perhaps, the best example is the SAT which professes to predict college grade point average. For tests like the SAT which test for aptitudes, predictive validity is appropriate.
For assessments like the MBTI, on the other hand, construct validity is the appropriate standard. Without getting too far into the weeds, we want to know if the MBTI does what it professes to do in explaining Jung’s theory. In other words, Jung’s theory is a construct and by taking the MBTI it is fair to ask if people get a better understanding of their personalities according to Jung’s theory.
The MBTI Manual provides 48 pages that are chock full of studies supporting its construct validity. I defy any reasonable person to review those pages, as I have done, and then conclude that the MBTI needs to “improve its validity”, as Cunningham writes.
Criticism: The MBTI is not reliable.
Rebuttal: The other technical assurance required by the American Psychological Association in its Standards for Educational and Psychological Tests relates to reliability. With any standardized test, we want to know that its scores will be consistent over time. Similar to its treatment of validity, the MBTI Manual dedicates a section listing various studies that support the test’s reliability.
Criticism: The MBTI forces people into categories
Rebuttal:There is something special about the MBTI which make it unlike any other assessment with which I am familiar. Once the MBTI is completed, there is a verification process with a trained facilitator where Jung’s model is explained and client’s are invited to consider if the test results are the best fit for them. Making adjustments to MBTI results is encouraged. Further, the emphasis in Jung’s theory is on preferences, like using a right or left hand. We all use both. Similarly, the point is underscored that we all use Jungian dichotomies, but his theory holds that we prefer one over the other.
Criticism: The academic community does not embrace the MBTI.
Rebuttal: Granted, MBTI critics like Grant and Pittenger are housed in universities. But, with more than 2,500 institutions of higher learning using the MBTI, somebody in the academy is certainly embracing it.
Personally, as a recovering academic myself, I have knowledge of the MBTI being used in teaching leadership skills, in teaching writing and even in making roommate assignments.
Criticism: The MBTI was developed by a mother-daughter team in their living room.
Rebuttal: This one is kind of snarky, don’t you think? But, I will note that Piaget’s influential theory of cognitive development began with observations of his own children. And, then there is B.F. Skinner who had his own daughter spend time in one of his Skinner boxes. I have not heard criticisms of the home-based origins of their theories.
The best way to think of the MBTI is as a tool. And, as a tool it is only as good as the craftsman using it. Perhaps some of the criticism is attributable to flaws, not in the MBTI itself, but to the people using it. Going online and taking the MBTI without the accompanying verification and interpretation is a misuse of the tool.
In closing, I want to issue a warning to anyone who tries to take my leaf blower away. You will have to pry it from my cold dead hands. I told you I was writing this with tongue in cheek.