My sister mentioned the Myers-Briggs Inventory on a phone call recently, which made me remember what I ultimately found most useful and interesting about it. (The Wikipedia article about Myers-Briggs is pretty thorough if you're not acquainted with this topic. There's been some controversy around Myers-Briggs and that's discussed in the linked article.)
So officially it's called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBI) and it's been around for nearly 80 years. The explanation that follows is entirely my own, based on my own understanding and experience of the MBI.
Basically, it's a test that consists of dozens of questions about your personality and your preferences. When your personal test has been scored, you are assigned a "Type" which indicates your preferred approach to four different aspects of life:
- Where you get your energy: Extroverts derive their energy from the outside world and other people; Introverts get energy from within themselves. I test as a strong Introvert and I find this to be absolutely accurate, along with the converse, which is that whenever I am required to be "extroverted" (i.e., to address a large roomful of people), it takes a good deal out of me, physically and emotionally. It's not that I can't be good at "extroversion," just that it drains me.
- How you acquire data: Sensing means you prefer actual recorded/observed facts. Intuition means you rely on hunches and bigger-picture estimations/evaluations about the world. I'm strongly intuitive, which means not that I can't do research properly but rather that I can get impatient when I'm feeling bogged down in a bunch of trees--I am more interested in figuring out the whole forest.
- How you make decisions: The short version is Thinkers rely on the brain while Feelers rely on the heart. When I first took the MBI test I was a strong Thinker; later I became more borderline, which suggests that I like to balance hard facts and evidence with "softer" considerations of the human impact and cost when I make a decision.
- How you see the world: People who prefer Judging like to see problems in black and white, open or closed. People who prefer Perception like shades of grey. I am right on the border of these two when I am tested, sometimes coming out a little bit Judge-y, other times, a little but Perceptive-y.
Your "Type" is expressed as a four-letter acronym combining the above preferences. INTJ means Introverted-Intuitive-Thinker-Judge. ESFP means Extroverted-Sensor-Feeler-Perceptive.
It is fun and illuminating to take the test and review and understand your results. But for me, the real value of MBI is that it teaches (or reminds) that there are many different personality preference types and, within each type, infinite shadings and varieties.
The strength of learning this framework is that you gain appreciation of the diversity around you. And, more important, that you not just tolerate or accept but actually celebrate that diversity. Because all of the different types are valid, and true, and worthwhile, and necessary. We need all the different kinds of people to make this world work properly.
So reveling in the specialness of your own Myers-Briggs type is not, for me, the point. Being an INTJ or an INFP (as noted, I've tested as both) doesn't define me or inhibit me; rather, it's a thing that I try to transcend. Indeed, the compliment I most appreciated when I was working at Marriott International back in the '90s (where I was first introduced to MBI) was when Fred Weis, the head of the Systems Development team that supported my department in Corporate Finance, told me that he knew I must be an ISTJ because he and I worked together so well (he was a strong ISTJ).
I didn't know it at the time, but my Myers-Briggs exposure pointed the way toward Mindfulness Practice, which is so much about taking people and situations as they are and finding constructive ways for change and progress. (For example, learning how to act like an ISTJ was an important way for me to be successful in my job 30 years ago.) I expect to explore Mindfulness here on the blog soon...