Tuesday, February 19, 2008
MBTI--a little background
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was extremely popular in the 80s, when the younger Boomers were trying to decide what to do and whom (or if) to marry and the older Boomers were afraid that, having passed the dreaded age of 30, they might actually turn 40 and have a midlife meltdown. Boomer that I am, I got very interested in this taxonomy of personality type, wrote One of a Kind (a book about it for parents), and led workshops for publishers.
The MBTI looks at three aspects of personality: what energizes us, how we gather information, and how we make decisions. In addition, it looks at whether we prefer gathering information or acting on it. Put these four factors together, and you get more than the sum of the parts—you get a fairly detailed and often uncannily accurate description of sixteen different kinds of people.
Of course, there aren’t really sixteen kinds of people, there are only two: those who love personality tests and those who think they are bogus. Well, maybe there are three types, if you include mine: those who love personality tests and think they are bogus if believed too implicitly or taken too far.
Still, such tests can help a lot of us sharpen our powers of observation. It’s easy to think everyone is either just like us or exactly opposite from us, without realizing that there’s a whole zoo of fascinating people out there who are simply other than us. A friend of mine, a highly prolific novelist, once told me she uses the MBTI to help create believable characters. It helps her maintain variety in her cast of characters, and it keeps her from unwittingly making an individual do something that a person with his or her personality simply wouldn’t do.