I came across an interesting little piece this morning in which a psychologist bemoans the limitations of the much-used Myers Briggs Type Indicator in the form of a Dear John letter. You can read it here, but I’d rather you carried on reading this.

In the article the author points out that the science behind MBTI is, at best, not terribly scientific, and asks that the people behind it do the math and move the tool along to be a bit more in keeping with proper psychometrics.

All well and good, I am as keen on rationalism and scientific rigour as the next chap, but, for me, the article misses the point ever so slightly on what MBTI can be used for – rather than a diagnostic tool to understand your personality, it gives people symbols, metaphors, if you like, and is a great way of developing teams.

I have blogged previously on this, and don’t see the need to bore you with it further, but suffice to say it can be useful to know that a team has a Ginny Weasley as well as a Sirius Black and a Hermione Granger, for example. Also, a quiz, here is a list of six characters who, apparently, share my MBTI type – a prize* for the first commenter to correctly identify me:

  • Hermione Granger  off of Harry Potter
  • Professor Fring off of The Simpsons
  • The holographic doctor off of Star Trek (DS9/Voyager era)
  • Billy off of Adventure Time
  • Wall E off of Wall E
  • Sherlock off of Sherlock (my personal favourite – I’ve always considered myself a text-book high-functioning sociopath, it’s no wonder I work with people…)

MBTI is, of course, based on the thinking of Carl Jung, Swiss analytical psychotherapist, dream interpreter and all round polymath. Jung is a man for whom my passion for rationalism and scientific rigour happily gets parked; he worked, as far as I can tell from my admittedly limited reading of his work, off instinct and insight rather than the statistically tried and tested tools beloved of those who spent their youth watching rats run around mazes in search of cheese.

My work, too, is based largely on the examination of data and the drawing of insight from it in order to help organisations to become more effective; having worked in financial services with cool people like actuaries, I know how important it is to have done the maths (yes maths, with an s on the end) when presenting anything to people who need evidence for doing anything.

But there is still, I think, room for the Jungian intuition in developing the insight you need to engender change. Data can take you a long way, and talking to people to deepen that understanding helps as well, but you still need to do something to make that jump from data to insight.

This process can take place in any number of ways; in a workshop, bouncing ideas around, in your head as you are putting together your report and associated slide deck, it can be communal or individual (although, let’s hark back to MBTI and Professor Jung here, extroverts tend to enjoy doing it with others and introverts like to do it by themselves), but it requires a human thought process which takes data and translates it into something different and meaningful.

Going with the gut feeling, making a decision based on intuition and instinct are generally frowned upon in the world of business. My recent adventures studying change management and process improvement are firmly based on using data, evidence, statistical analysis as the basis for decisions to be made in a business.

In my experience, however, people rely much more than they would probably admit on instinct and gut feeling. Any insight or data or evidence you give to people will always pass through their mental filters and be adapted into their own world view before they make any decision on it, and they are more likely to take a course they wanted to in the first place.

An example – in an organisation I worked with, people said they wanted more leadership visibility. Leaders took this to mean getting out and about in town hall meetings and generally doing more formal communication activities. 

What people actually wanted was a more personal connection with their leaders – they wanted better recognition and clarity that their leaders understood what life was really like for them on the shop floor. They wanted managing by walking about,m they wanted to know leaders were really in touch.

The leaders, however, found this kind of thing difficult; they found the kind of instinctive, informal and spontaneous contact their people needed was too hard, and they chose, instead, to go with a safer, more formal and safer way to tick the leadership visibility box, and then were surprised and upset when people told them their leaders were still out of touch.

A more intuitive perusal of the data may have lead them to a different conclusion and more effective leadership behaviours.

So, have a think – be rational about the rationality of your decision making. Do you go with brain or gut? Or is there a bit of both? Which is the braver option? And which is more likely to be effective?

*There’s not really a prize. Sorry.