Personality Tests - Value, Traps, and Limitations
While tests for personality type can be useful, they are, at best, pseudoscience. I speak from both the experience of having taken several dozen different personality tests over the years (some multiple times) and from having co-authored a personality test some 30 years ago. (I have "a dog in this fight," as they say.) And I have several hard science degrees (biochemistry and cell biology - each of which involved a healthy dose of physics and mathematics.)
The are, by nature, vague in what they are identifying and how that relates to complex human critters. This is why I don't consider them anything close to scientific in their methods or conclusions. Every test seems to have its evangelists, people who peddle the capabilities of their favorite test and latch on to the results as gospel truth. (Except me, of course. More on that latter.)
In one of the forums I frequent, a commenter had this to say about personality test:
"I think this experience was extremely useful to me...I went through and wrote a few pages worth of reflections and thoughts..."
This has been my experience and begins to show the way for how personality tests can be useful. It's difficult to begin self-reflection from a blank slate. Where to begin? A personality test can provide a very rough sketch of an outline. Taking several different tests can suggest additional areas or lead to a more focused self-reflection. This can lead to two very important things: 1) a direction and 2) moving in that direction.
So that is my perspective as a consumer of personality tests. As for my perspective from having co-created a personality testing tool...
Many years ago, a friend and I were working in the business consulting space. Our area of interest was building teams around the then popular practice of total quality management (TQM.) The mechanics of TQM seemed straightforward enough, however, motivating people to organize around those principles and practices was a challenge. (An evergreen problem.) Our issues were around the age-old elements of resistance to change and motivation. The world was fitfully trying to change from the management ways of the Industrial Revolution to the management ways of Information Age and knowledge work. There was an Internet, but no World Wide Web. It was a time when the old corporate guard of (virtually always) men were nearing the cusp of a 50 year career at one company and hanging 'em up for a gold watch and a pension. Proposing changes that late in the game meant resistance was fierce.
We researched a lot and experimented with quite a few of the available personality tests. The most popular, Meyers-Briggs, was ill suited for out purposes. It generated more anger and frustration than was worth the effort. Some of the more common issues were:
People didn't like being pigeonholed into one of sixteen types.
People didn't like that the interpretation was dependent on someone else and coated with unfamiliar jargon. (Don't know if the Meyers-Briggs folks have changed in this regard over the past 35 years.)
Had a lot of language with negative connotations. ("Introvert," for example. Not a good thing in the 80's. "Sounds like 'pervert.'" I recall one participant saying.)
All in all, Meyers-Briggs generated a lot of extraneous tension, conflict, and anger that was getting in the way of our being effective. An experiment I would have liked to run was shuffling up the results and see if people agreed with their assessments just as much as the official results. People seem to find meaning and relevance no matter the result. That's probably why astrology is as popular as it is enduring.
We eventually decided to create our own personality test based on a fad at the time, Neuro-Linguist Programming. (I'd met my co-author at an NLP training.) Originally called the "Neuro-Linguistic Programming Personality Test," we later re-branded it as "The Motivation Profile." An on-line version can be found as part of my Masters capstone project. The survey is there, but very little of the interpretation was completed as it wasn't necessary for the capstone goal. And the results aren't saved.
We worked to use positive language and rather than four (DISC) or sixteen possible outcomes (Meyers-Briggs,) there are 10^24 (That’s 10 raised to the 24th power or one septillion. Substack doesn’t support superscripts.) possible profiles. The conversations that followed from potential teams taking our profile were much more productive. Everyone got to be unique while very clear preferences emerged and highlighted strengths and weaknesses. Much less conflict and anger. Lots more appreciation of differences.
Our profile was pretty popular with psychotherapists for quite a while and we heard plenty of anecdotal evidence that when clients took the profile 6 and 12 months later the therapist was able to track and show changes toward therapy goals. It was a fun little experiment and I'm delighted others found interesting uses for what we created. Except for my Masters, I haven't done anything with the Motivation Profile in quite a few years. I believe what's out there now is just as good or better. Several months ago I took the CliftonStrengths assessment and found it quite useful.
The main point of this mini-self-promotion is that there is less science and more persuasion behind most of the personality assessments available. I've found that the greatest value can be found in taking several - maybe even many - over the years, perhaps even with repeats. They are just another tool and - in my opinion - shouldn't be viewed as revealing who you are and what you're capable of to any great depth. They are yardsticks, not micrometers.
Image by Alexandra Haynak from Pixabay
I have had my fare share of personality tests too. I also have studied about them and found that they are not as robust as we might think. I see them more as a guide than as a picture of self. I have taken also the Strengths Assessment and to this time it has been the most accurate depiction of a part of me. I do feel that more information on this tools is needed, mainly at the management and corporate level in order to harness any value from them. Good post!