Ever wondered how different the modern world would be without the theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung? If you could step into a time machine and go back to the summer of 1873, sit down in Vienna’s Café Landtmann and strike up a conversation with someone at the next table about id or ego, anima or animus you would have been met with only a blank stare. The Landtmann opened its door that year and soon became Freud’s favourite local. Try the same thing just one hundred and forty five years later and a nearby diner might well lean in and begin, in a mischievous whisper, to tell you about their best friend’s Oedipus complex.
Origins of the Theory
In the West, it could be argued, Freudian-originated psychology has now taken the place of religion for many people. But, in the business world – thanks in the main to the work of Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs – it is the theories of the man often unjustly seen as merely Freud’s young apprentice, Carl Gustav Jung, which hold the greater sway.
Katharine Cook Briggs began her own research into personality in 1917, after being taken by the differences between the personality of her future son-in-law and other family members. After the English translation of Jung’s book, Psychological Types, was published, Katharine and her daughter, Isabel, became, to all intents and purposes, ideological disciples of Jung. The two devoted the next twenty years of their lives to the study of Jungian psychological typologies, eventually publishing the Briggs Myers Type Indicator Handbook coming up to three-quarters of a century ago, in 1944.
Questions and Controversy
What Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Cook Briggs did was to create a, now 83-question, questionnaire, which, they claimed, accurately assign individuals into one of sixteen different personality types. But the MBTI Type Indicator is viewed, in some academic circles, with scepticism.
Jung postulated four different cognitive functions – thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. He came to believe that people make sense of the world using very different means. While some take intuitive leaps others concentrate on their immediate senses – what they can see, hear, or touch. His theories are not based on controlled scientific studies but, for the most part, on clinical observation and anecdote. Over the years, this has led to much criticism of Myers Briggs as business tool from psychologists who regard it as fundamentally unscientific.
Despite the doubters, the MBTI is now – nearly seventy-five years after its inception – a rite of passage for many. It is estimated that more than 50 million people around the world have taken it. Major consumer companies like General Motors, Unilever and Procter & Gamble have used the MBTI on their employees for many years. And the main reason for that is the system’s perceived strong track-record of success in building teams.
Different people work differently
In an excellent recent Financial Times article Murad Ahmed, the FT’s European Technology Correspondent, covers Myers Briggs in great detail and, at one point, says “The main thing I learnt from the test was that I was a clear “extrovert”. According to Myers-Briggs, extroverts are “solar-powered”, constantly gaining energy from people and information around them. My wife, I realised, was more of an “introvert”, someone who apparently tops up her energy from regular periods of quiet reflection and solitude. This revelation helped resolve a regular marital conflict. My wife couldn’t understand why I always wanted to be the last to leave a party, while I was baffled by her desire to leave early. The Myers-Briggs results prompted a discussion.”
Ahmed here, gets to the essence of why Myers Briggs works so well for businesses and in workplace environments – people who take the test quickly grasp how, and why, their own results, and the differing results of colleagues may mean they approach the same problems in a very different way. And that this instinctive variance can lead to unnecessary workplace conflict.
As Murad continues:
“This kind of experience is at the heart of the test’s popularity.”
And he later quotes Jeffrey Hayes, the chief executive of CPP, the world-renowned assessment company
“The reason it endures is that people find its insights very valuable…it helps them lead more productive and fulfilling lives.”
The MBTI sorts people into different types, organized by four pairs of opposite traits. These pairs are:
- Extraversion (E) and Introversion (I)
- Sensing (S) and Intuition (N)
- Thinking (T) and Feeling (F)
- Judging (J) and Perceiving (P)
After taking the test one of each pair is then combined to create a 4-letter abbreviation for your personality type. It only takes a quick google to find descriptions of the sixteen MBTI types online. Some sources give them – alongside the letters – different names to make them easier to remember. Here are two from Personalityperfect.com to give a sense of how the people they describe might differ in their approach to a project:
ISTJ – The Inspector
At first glance, ISTJs are intimidating. They appear serious, formal, and proper. They also love traditions and old-school values that uphold patience, hard work, honour, and social and cultural responsibility. They are reserved, calm, quiet, and upright. These traits result from the combination of I, S, T, and J, a personality type that is often misunderstood.
INTP – The Thinker
INTPs are well known for their brilliant theories and unrelenting logic, which makes sense since they are arguably the most logical minded of all the personality types. They love patterns, have a keen eye for picking up on discrepancies, and a good ability to read people, making it a bad idea to lie to an INTP. People of this personality type aren’t interested in practical, day-to-day activities and maintenance, but when they find an environment where their creative genius and potential can be expressed, there is no limit to the time and energy INTPs will expend in developing an insightful and unbiased solution.
So, straightaway, it’s easy to see how a ‘formal and proper’ Inspector might quickly go head-to-head with a ‘creative genius’ Thinker when it comes to the organisation of a conference or the detailed implementation of a business strategy. What, its many passionate advocates claim, Myers Briggs does is create a collective company self-awareness which turns that potential conflict into a positive outcome for any organisation.
Still not convinced? Then step into that time machine and set the co-ordinates for Café Landtmann, Vienna 1873. Herr Jung will be in soon. And, in the meantime, I’m sure Herr Freud will be happy to outline a theory or two, whilst you and he are waiting.