Myers-Briggs and other Pseudoscience

by Ty Hagler | 5-minute read

Hello, like Adam Grant, I too am an INTJ. I am also an Aquarius and my fortune cookie said, “Today is probably a huge improvement over yesterday.”  Each is those statements was equally supported by scientific literature. If you’re a big fan of MBTI, (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), that stings a bit, or not... Now, before you say to yourself, ”it’s just like an INTJ to question MBTI”, I’ll agree with you and support it with my horoscope for today, which said, “Just when you’re ready to steal the show, you discover it’s rigged with alarms and guard dogs. Add a few pork chops and wirecutters to your dance routine, and they’ll never know what hit them.”  Kind of eerie, right?  or, maybe that's just confirmation bias at work.

Commitment Bias

So, what’s going on here? MBTI is taken by 2.5 million people per year and used by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies. Thousands of people have invested time and money in becoming MBTI-certified trainers and coaches.  MBTI is taught by career counselors and in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior classes in the business schools. All this enthusiasm despite the fact that MBTI has been consistently discredited by serious psychologists and the social sciences since the 1980’s. Once we make a commitment to an idea, either through public statements, time investments, or financial investments, we are positively biased towards that idea. Given that a significant population of business leaders have some degree of commitment bias to MBTI, this fad won’t be going away any time soon. 

Confirmation Bias

I have taken the test multiple times in various contexts and have certainly tried to make sense of the results for self-awareness and how to better relate to others.  The days when I’m acting more like an INTJ confirm the test results and I might otherwise ignore the disconfirming times when I exhibit more extroverted traits.  Carl Yung advised that, “people don’t have ideas. Ideas have people.”  We don’t like to have our ideas and beliefs challenged, and therefore seek out only that information that confirms our beliefs. If you take your four-letter MBTI personality type to heart, then you will filter for confirming evidence of your assigned type and be likely to ignore disconfirming evidence that runs contrary to your original type.  It is fascinating to note that over 50% of people who re-take the MBTI Test over a 3-month period will receive a different result.  

Introvert vs. Extrovert? A False Dichotomy

MBTI does have a stable personality type with the degree of introversion compared to extroversion, though the labeling of an individual as one or the other creates a false dichotomy where the population might be implicitly perceived as skewing to one or the other in a barbell-shaped distribution curve.  Daniel Pink addresses this fallacy by introducing the concept of an ambivert, or someone who can both listen and confidently engage with others.  Viewed through this lens, the human population follows a bell curve distribution with the majority in the center as ambiverts and the outliers are the extroverts or introverts.  

Introverts Ambiverts and Extroverts

Replacing Myers-Briggs

There are a number of personality typing tests that enjoy academic support, though the challenge of creating a consistent repeatable test that succinctly captures the complexity of human personalities is great enough that there isn’t yet a 100% solution.  A 2013 paper by Jones and Hartley weighed the benefits of DiSC vs. the Big Five Test.  While they noted the popularity of MBTI, they ignored the method without comment. 

Psychometric assessments as alternatives to MBTI

If you are looking for alternatives to Myers-Briggs, we have been exploring the following tools.  Most of which were suggested by Ray Dalio in his book, Principles, as part of how they create baseball card profiles of each of the Bridgewater staff. 


Big Five Personality Assessment

Five Factor Test (Big Five)  The Big Five test seems to have the strongest academic support of any of the personality assessments, though it does have its critics.   The dimensions are not neutral, however, since some of the traits have positive or negative implications, making it less likely to get widely adopted.

- If you don't mind paying $10, there is a nicely done prescriptive Big Five test here that includes an extra two dimensions per each Big Five trait.  Otherwise, you can find several free tests out there that give a more general result.


DiSC Assessment Model

DiSC Personality Profile.  This is a behavior assessment tool based on four traits, Dominance, Influence, Conscientiousness, and Steadiness. There seems to be some overlap between the Big Five and DiSC traits, but not necessarily an easy comparison. 


Simplexity Theory

Team Dimensions profile.  This is the theoretical model behind the Basadur Simplexity Creativity Profile, but included a fifth dimension of Flexors, who are able to flex between each of the four types.


Stratified Systems Theory

Stratified Systems Theory.  This is similar to the Situational Leadership model, but identifies the organizational skills needed by an individual as they move up from an operations mindset to a purely strategic mindset. 

The Marshmallow Test for Entrepreneurs

In this second section of the podcast, we explored a number of cool topics.  We picked up with a description of the essential virtual company collaboration toolset: Slack, Asana, Join.me, appear.in. I shared our process for choosing Asana over Trello. Also, I gave a shout out to Ashley Whitley for her project management talents. 

We talked about hiring for a virtual company, that it’s amazing for work-life balance, but it is not for everyone. At Trig, we look for T-shaped people, or those who have in-depth skills in one area and has the curiosity to constantly expand into new skill areas. We found that we have a hard time retaining specialists because our client challenges are so diverse. Those who are excited to tackle new challenges that may be tangential to what they know are a great fit for us. Entrepreneurs would likely fit the T-shaped description as well, with technical expertise in one area that was critical to launch the company, then ever expanding skill sets as they grow to meet the needs of their startup. 

Introverts, Extroverts, and Ambiverts

We talked about how the population spectrum between introversion and extroversion is bell shaped. Daniel Pink introduces the idea of ambiverts in his book To Sell is Human as the most effective sales personality. Also be sure to check out our other article on MBTI and how it creates a misunderstanding of the Introversion-Extroversion scale.

The Marshmallow Test for Entrepreneurs 

Marshmallow test for entrepreneurs

We also talked about the Marshmallow Test, which is a multi-stage study following children who take a test at 5 years old then tracking how they did in their careers. The child was brought into a room and presented with a marshmallow on a plate then told that if they waited 10 minutes, they would get two marshmallows. Some children ate the marshmallow right away, ending their test. Other children developed strategies to not eat the marshmallow, looking away, humming, etc. the study then tracked those children who could delay gratification and found that they were far more likely to have successful careers and fulfilling families than those who ate the marshmallow. We then played with the idea that an entrepreneur is one who waits, gets the second marshmallow, then starts trying to negotiate for more marshmallows by waiting further, or trading their marshmallow to get something else. In effect, entrepreneurs have to constantly be delaying gratification as they build a business. 

The Dangers of Overconfidence

Jason asked a great question of leadership lessons I might have learned while in sports. I shared one of my dumbest moments leading a team of new kayakers on the water after the lake had just thawed.  I shared how we ended up in a 4-person kayak that stayed upright purely on the confidence I had in my abilities to keep the boat upright.  This confidence lasted until we got to the middle of the lake and we had a bad shake.  I said the fateful words, "Maybe we should steer closer to shore," which made everyone panic and in we went.  It was a long, cold swim back to the shore, pulling a heavy boat and concerned about hypothermia.  As entrepreneurs, we need to be careful to guard against our own hyper-optimism and have a back-up plan followed by another back-up plan to manage downside risk.

Such a fun podcast conversation.  Thanks again to Jason and Corey for having me on!

Industrial Design Serves Brand

What separates the industrial design art projects from the truly impactful products that resonate with customers?

Good design starts with understanding the customer and is both influenced by and shapes the brand. 

At Trig, we get requests to help design “Apple-esque” products. The sentiment is great, but Apple is far more than a single technology package, product design, brand identity, or unique vision for transforming a market. Apple has a ridiculously loyal customer following that dates back to its founding unique promises made and promises kept. 

TriangleCast Podcast - Show Notes

TriangleCast Podcast - Show Notes

Jason Guigno and Corey Jeffreys of TrangleCast have got podcasting figured out. We met at the Frontier in RTP, and bounced into a random conference room. Within minutes, they had an impressive array of microphones and a mobile mixing board set up, all while easily chatting with me and setting a relaxed tone to the conversation.