Why MBTI looks out of date to me… - Mirror Mirror - Team Alignment

The more we learn about the power of context, the more we see that rigid rules or principles about the way we behave don’t serve us. Of course, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) isn’t the only personality typing inventory out there, it just feels more rigid than others, with it’s 4 axes, placing people here or there.

If you ever did the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator test, did you hesitate on the introvert vs extrovert questions? According to MBTI theory, we all have an underlying preference for either Extraversion or Introversion. Extraverts are energised by interacting with the outside world of people and things; Introverts get their energy from the inner world of thought and reflection. This means that typically, Extraverts and Introverts tend to behave in different ways.

Sometimes I love a party.  I love meeting interesting people and laughing out loud way more than usual. But it depends on the party, and it depends on how I’m feeling. If I had a difficult day, and if I’m tired, and if I don’t find interesting people at the party, it won’t give me energy. I’ll be looking forward to flopping into bed and wondering how I can get there, fast.  So I’m both?

According to an article by John Hackston, Head of R&D at OPP – purveyors of MBTI training and assessments – this does not mean the MBTI structure is out of date because ‘ambiverts’, people who can be both.  He writes:

In a sense we are all Ambiverts, or at least have the potential to be; it is actually the goal of good Type development to be able to choose when to behave in a more extraverted or a more introverted mode. Indeed, Type theory shows how each of us can develop through life, to a place where our behaviour may be indistinguishable in practice from that of the fabled Ambivert…. but underneath it all, we still have a preference for one side or the other, Extraversion or Introversion, at the core of our being.

Is that a fact?

Here’s an excerpt from an article ‘Five Popular Myths about Learning that are Completely Wrong’, by the Fast Company:

You’ve probably heard about visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning. In a survey of more than 3,000 Americans, nearly 90% of respondents believe it’s better to receive information in your personal learning style. But once you start thinking about the idea, it falls apart, says Boser.


“It’s hard to learn soccer only by hearing it,” he says. “Like many myths, there is a bit of truth that lies behind it, but there’s no research to support learning styles. One major recent review stated simply that the authors found virtually no evidence for the approach.”


Instead, match your content to the process, says Boser. “Students should learn music by listening to music, while students should learn reading by doing more reading,” he says. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education recently told teachers to “make [their] own call on how to utilize learning styles in the classroom.”

Here’s a new angle. If we, as humans adapt to each unique context we encounter, according to the New York Times, we do that in the broader context of how we imagine the future. Psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered that looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain. This is a rather belated development in social sciences because for the past century, most researchers have assumed what we think relates to the past and present. The article states

Our singular foresight created civilisation and sustains society. It usually lifts our spirits but it’s also the source of most depression and anxiety. Psychoanalysts believed that treating patients was a matter of unearthing and confronting the past. Even when cognitive therapy emerged, it focused on the past and the present – on memory and perception. Behavior, memory and perception cannot be understood without appreciating the central role of prospection. We learn not by storing static records but by continually retouching memories and imagining future possibilities…. Our emotions are less reactions to the present and more guides to future behavior.

The identification of behavioural types in the absence of context, it seems, is still useful. Now I’m not a social scientist, but it looks to me as if, undeniably, understanding more about behaviour in context is becoming more useful.