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    May 01, 2018    |

The 3 R’s of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Hockey player in lights at ice rink Wayne Gretzky. The Great One. The gold standard for aspiring hockey all-stars. Yet, in 1999 with physical age and the insurgence of up and coming young talent, the Great One retired. The MBTI® instrument can be thought of as the Wayne Gretzky of developmental assessments. With over 2 million people completing it each year, and with its vast array of organizational and personal applications, arguably the tool is in peak form. However, unlike Number 99, the MBTI® assessment is – and should be- far from retirement.
As type practitioners, it is our challenge to present the value of the MBTI® instrument against a backdrop of increasing competition and skepticism. In recent years, the tool has faced claims of unreliability or lack of utility while practitioners who see the value of type disagree with such claims whole-heartedly. So, how can we defend our practice appropriately and safeguard type against the influence of its critics? How can we, as practitioners, promote the future promise and reputation of a tried-and-true – yet dynamically versatile – instrument and framework? Well, fear not! I have put together a few key points for practitioners to remember easily: The 3 Rs. And no, I don’t mean reduce, re-use, recycle. Instead, I refer to:

1. Reliability

2. refinement

3. relevance



Let’s start with the basics. A key point of skepticism in the past has revolved around the reliability of the MBTI instrument. Individuals and critics sometimes claim that reported results change: either over time, or in extreme arguments, each time they complete the indicator. While it is true that sometimes individuals can respond differently on the assessment due to a number of reasons that impact self-report data (stress, influence of work roles, recent development, presence of an authority figure, familiarity with type and concepts, ideal self-concept to name a few), the MBTI tool – when sampled in large, representative groups- demonstrates acceptable or excellent reliability over time. That is, much more often than not, the MBTI delivers similar enough results that we can trust the results given.


According to the MBTI Manual (Myers et al., 1999), the MBTI instrument demonstrates acceptable to excellent reliability over a 5-year time span, when the shelf-life of any other self-report assessment is typically around 18-24 months. In a representative sample, 2/3 people were found to obtain the same reported results on average. In the event of a preference ‘difference’, it was usually on a preference reported with a “slight PCI” the first time. This makes sense, and given the nature of a ‘split vote’ on any one dichotomy, it becomes more likely that an individual will receive a different result should they change their votes or responses even marginally. In an effort to reinforce the type consistency over time, we here at Psychometrics Canada conducted our own study amongst MBTI Certification attendees. In a sample of 582 adults, individuals were asked to indicate whether their type had changed over 5 and 10 years, respectively. Only 16% reported that their type preferences had changed over the course of the last 5 years; 84% reported that they had remained the same. Moreover, for those who had completed the MBTI over 10 years ago initially, this number dropped slightly and 73% of participants said results had not changed. This decline can be partially explained by research conducted by CPP that states preferences are more apt to be reported differently as the time interval between assessment times becomes longer (Myers et al., 2003). In general however, the high numbers of people reporting persistent type preferences provide strong support for the notion of type stability over time.

Of course, all this hub-bub over the repeatability of the MBTI reported results becomes somewhat moot when one considers the importance of the self-assessment and interpretation process surrounding the report itself. As certified practitioners, one of the first things we are taught is that MBTI results are never simply given out: they are always accompanied by a self-assessment and a process by which an individual freely selects their ‘best fit type’. It is this verified 4-letter-code that will be used to begin those fruitful developmental discussions – the crux of which is not dependent on what a piece of paper reports, but what the individual believes themselves to be. Due to the inherent and innate nature of our true preferences, or our ‘best fit type’, even if our report or PCI changes as a result of our votes, the verified type should not change. This highlights not only that the value of type is not isolated to the MBTI tool itself, while also emphasizing the need for proper interpretation when using the tool and subsequent report. The MBTI is meant as a supplement to aid in the discussion, not as a prescriptive end-all. As Jane Kise, principal and Founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates so eloquently points out in her blog:

“Isabel Myers, who began work on the instrument in the 1940s … didn’t think people would want to be told who they were, so she created the instrument to work within a specific process for interpreting the results”. – Jane Kise,

Reliability: the Summary

If an individual claims they’ve received different results every time, ask:
1. Was it truly the MBTI assessment? (‘knock offs’ that have not undergone the same scientific scrutiny and research may indeed yield more variable results; Meanwhile, the MBTI tool shows good reliability over 5 years).
2. Did they receive an interpretation? (One’s “Best Fit’ as per a comprehensive interpretation will be even less likely to change than their reported results due to the innate and stable nature of preferences).


Just an ‘old’ assessment from the 1940s? No way! Although Isabel Myers began her work in 1943, the MBTI instrument as we know it has continuously evolved into what it is today – and continues to improve. With ongoing refinement, the MBTI assessment continues to gain more credibility and usefulness amongst practitioners and clients alike. Along with better versions of items released periodically to ensure optimal utility and validity, publications featuring a multitude of type supplements and manuals to aid in the ongoing application of MBTI are continuously updated, re-branded and re purposed to suit growing demands: for individuals, organizations, couples, students, and leaders alike. To give you a brief overview:

1943: First “Form A” MBTI assessment; represents problems to be solved and first possible items Leading change
1943-1962: Isabel Myers seeks to construct and validate the assessment using sampling and manually performed statistics
1962: Forms E & F use computer scoring for the first time. Practitioners happen across Indicator and find it useful
1968: First translation – Takeshi Oshawa to Japanese; used in management
1975: CPP becomes official publisher; MBTI becomes available to qualified users; CAPT (Centre for the Application of Psychological Type) is formed for typology research, data collection, training, publications
1977: First issue of the MBTI research journal: Journal of Psychological type
1982: Myers and Hartzler create first publisher-approved MBTI Qualifying Program
1985: Second Edition of the official MBTI Manual
1990: Publication of Form K and Expanded Analysis Report Manual (To become Step II)
1996: Publication of MBTI Applications, a Decade of Research
1998: Revision of Form G – release of current Step I Form M
Since 2001 :
• Form Q – Step II released with associated manuals
• Continued growth in business and international markets
• Formation of APTi (Association of Psychological Type International)
• New reports, training materials, application guides
• New manual supplements for Step I and Step II

Clearly, The MBTI instrument is anything but outdated, and the applications that come from an understanding of type are anything but archaic. As a community, we continue to contribute to the refinement and utilization of the evolving and ever-improving Myers Briggs Type Indicator®.


The reputation of the MBTI instrument continues to be well-known. Each year, around 2 million new users around the world are exposed to the instrument, which has – since the 1960s – been translated into over a dozen languages. The instrument continues to be the most well-known developmental assessment to date, even alongside the growing popularity of various other tools (DiSC, SDI, Insights, etc). However, what is more important than the MBTI instrument itself when considering relevance is the vast body of application, insights and conversations that arise from the understanding of type and differences. Applications of type include career exploration, couple and family counselling, team building, leadership development, change management, understanding stress, conflict mitigation, re-integration…the list goes on. These insights and the appropriate use of type by practitioners, counsellors and consultants alike are what ultimately make the MBTI tool relevant – beyond the reputation of the instrument alone.

Appropriate Use: The MBTI and Type in general has come under scrutiny for not being a ‘predictive or evaluative instrument’. It is believed by some that unless an assessment is able to accurately draw comprehensive conclusions about an individual – or their effectiveness -, then the instrument lacks utility. Meanwhile, distributors and practitioners who use type appropriately have never claimed that the MBTI (or any instrument that measures type for that matter) is a comprehensive personality exam; nor that it sums up a person’s potential. In actuality, the very purpose of type is not to predict but to help clients recognize the influence our preferences play in every day functioning. From there, the value lie not in the results on a page, but in the insights that arise from discussion. Too often, and even amongst type practitioners, we get wrapped up in the the hard-and-fast assessment results and want to treat them as more than they are; in the meantime, type is only meant to promote dialogue, encourage change, or enhance behaviour. Therein lies the real value of type: not that it predicts effectiveness, but that it enhances it through self-awareness and empowerment to make necessary change. Therefore, being a type practitioner also means playing your part in sustaining the relevance of the MBTI assessment: by continuing to promote appropriate discussion and development, to advocate for its appropriate use, and to prevent possible misuse.

Future Directions: Although the MBTI assessment and type applications are arguably still in the midst of their “hay day”, it is also important to consider what we as practitioners can do to protect the relevance of type in the long-term. Like Wayne Gretzky and other hall-of-famers, there are always other talented and exciting players in the game and if we let ourselves become complacent or stagnant in our practice, we run the risk of early retirement. This is why I always encourage practitioners to be on the look-out for ways to enhance their “Type Toolbelt”; whether it be exposing themselves to new applications of type (stress, dynamics, Step II, etc.), finding new media-savvy ways of presenting ideas (like blogging for example!), or perhaps combining type with other complimentary models of personality (they don’t have to be treated as competitors after all!), finding new ways of exploring and communicating type with clients will keep you – and the MBTI instrument – in demand. In the words of CPP Divisional Director of researcher Rich Thompson, “it’s not a fad, and if the thousands of organizations and millions of people worldwide that reap its benefits have their way, it’s not going away anytime soon”.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank all of our practitioners: you are an important part of the ongoing relevance and reputation of this popular assessment. It is through the vast application of type that the MBTI instrument continues to thrive and the clients you help continue to benefit from its insights. You are already a part of the legacy; let’s keep this ‘great one’ alive.


Myers, I.B., McCaulley, M. H., Quenk, N.L., & Hammer, A.H. (2009). MBTI® Manual: Third Edition. CPP Inc., Mountainview, CA.