Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. : Oscar Wilde

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Myers-Briggs: The Undead

Although the Myers-Briggs and related instruments are fairly heavily used by many of us in employment counselling and career development the way that they model human personality is at least partly historical in nature and this model may be unsuitable to a postmodern world. Here are the dialogue examples that first caught my eye, from Gergen [1], and then a little of what he has to say on this subject, albeit indirectly when it comes to the measurement instruments.

'JAMES: The bottom line is clear: we don't have any choice but to close down the plant.
FRED: I just don't feel we can do that; it's too heartless for all those workers and their families.

'MARGE: Be realistic, Sam. If you don't take more care of the baby, my whole career is going to be ruined.
SAM: What kind of mother are you, anyway? You don't show one ounce of dedication or compassion to your own child—much less to me.

'SUSAN: You really are dumb if you buy that house, Carol. It's in such bad shape and you'll be in debt forever.
CAROL: But, Susan, somehow that doesn't bother me. There's just something deep inside me that comes alive whenever I think about living there.'

Gergen goes on: 'James, Marge, and Susan all rely on common beliefs in people as rational agents who examine the facts and make decisions accordingly. ... For Fred, Sam, and Carol, the ideal human being is not a creature of practical reason, but one who is guided by something deeper--moral feelings, loyalties, nurturing instincts, or a sense of spontaneous joy. ... a romanticist conception ... lays central stress on unseen, even sacred forces that dwell deep within the person, forces that give life and relationships their significance ... a modernist view of personality, in which reason and observation are central ingredients of human functioning ... [but] postmodernism tends to extinguish the validity of both the romantic and modern realities.'

Anyone familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality dimensions will recognise the alignment of Thinking-Feeling with Gergen's romantic-modern. However, Gergen casts some considerable doubt on whether one's identity can be modelled effectively using a system that is being pushed aside in a postmodern world. Since the Myers-Briggs-type instruments are used in career development practice largely to help clients to define, and become better aware of, their own identities—when the purpose for using these instruments is remembered at all—it is worth considering the possibility that the theoretical basis for their use may no longer hold.

[1] Kenneth J. Gergen (1991) The Saturated Self: Dilemnas of Identity in Contemporary Life, Basic Books (pages 18 and 19)