Don’t Be Like Myers-Briggs: Measure Your Impact

When I started my doctoral program at Vanderbilt, I certainly didn’t expect to get into a … heated discussion, shall we say? … with the professor of my first course. 

We were discussing characteristics of effective leaders, and our professor mentioned that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, one of the most well-known personality tests, was essentially worthless.

You see, despite its incredible popularity, there is actually no data to show that Myers-Briggs is a valid and reliable assessment — that it measures what it intends to, and that you’d consistently get the same outcomes if you took it again and again. 

Now, I’ve always been a pretty introspective person, and I (still) love personality tests as a fun way to reflect on how I think, feel, and interact with others. I’d never taken them as a scientific assessment of my psyche, but Myers-Briggs especially had stood out to me as a somewhat revelatory framework for why people interact and act the way they do.

I had always gotten the exact same result when I’d taken the Myers-Briggs (ENFJ, if you’re curious), so when my professor started talking about how most people get quite different results each time they take it, and that there was no research to support its utility, part of me was bummed, and part of me was fired up. 

I argued (civilly, of course) that I didn’t use it as a formal diagnostic tool, but instead as a helpful resource or an interesting way of looking at things. So why should it matter? (Newsflash: It does matter.)

For fun, I recently read The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing by Merve Emre. Of course, she confirmed what my professor had said many years ago. However, it reminded me of something I see often in education. 

People who are passionate about helping children and families often feel that they KNOW that what they’re doing is helping the communities they serve, even without any real data to back it up. 

We KNOW that our Family Science Night was a success because there were lots of families there, and everyone enjoyed themselves. We BELIEVE that a teacher is effective because the children love them. We FEEL the impact of an after-school program because, well, it’s been in the community forever. 

Unfortunately, we can’t rely on gut instincts, feelings, and beliefs alone to tell us if something is effective… just like I couldn’t make decisions based on only an affinity for Myers-Briggs. 

Let me be clear: education, and family engagement in particular, tends to get kind of fuzzy. While we can’t rely on intuition, it’s also true that we can’t rigorously test everything that happens in schools. We need to find a middle ground.

But this isn’t just my random interest in personality theory. 

When it comes to children and families, we need to make sure that what we’re doing to try to help them actually works. 

Luckily, it’s not that hard to get started. We can begin tracking data, analyzing trends, and ultimately, measuring our impact so that we know we aren’t just THINKING that we’re changing lives. We actually are.