About all that MBTI stuff…

The last couple of days some of us have been prattling about Myers-Briggs personality types — guessing which kinds the gubernatorial candidates are, talking about the differences amongst ourselves that make it hard for us to agree with each other, and so forth.

Kathryn suggests I post this link explaining the types, so I have. And it’s a good starting point if you find this model for thinking about cognitive differences at all helpful. I don’t know what y’all’s types are, but here’s what it says about my type, Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiver:

Seek to develop logical explanations for everything that interests them. Theoretical and abstract, interested more in ideas than in social interaction. Quiet, contained, flexible, and adaptable. Have unusual ability to focus in depth to solve problems in their area of interest. Skeptical, sometimes critical, always analytical.

That’s pretty sketchy. You can find much more in-depth analyses of all 16 types elsewhere on the Web, such as on this page about INTPs, which helps to explain why I can be such a pain in the … neck:

INTPs live in the world of theoretical possibilities. They see everything in terms of how it could be improved, or what it could be turned into. They live primarily inside their own minds, having the ability to analyze difficult problems, identify patterns, and come up with logical explanations. They seek clarity in everything, and are therefore driven to build knowledge. They are the “absent-minded professors”, who highly value intelligence and the ability to apply logic to theories to find solutions. They typically are so strongly driven to turn problems into logical explanations, that they live much of their lives within their own heads, and may not place as much importance or value on the external world. Their natural drive to turn theories into concrete understanding may turn into a feeling of personal responsibility to solve theoretical problems, and help society move towards a higher understanding.

INTPs value knowledge above all else. Their minds are constantly working to generate new theories, or to prove or disprove existing theories. They approach problems and theories with enthusiasm and skepticism, ignoring existing rules and opinions and defining their own approach to the resolution. They seek patterns and logical explanations for anything that interests them….

The INTP has no understanding or value for decisions made on the basis of personal subjectivity or feelings. They strive constantly to achieve logical conclusions to problems, and don’t understand the importance or relevance of applying subjective emotional considerations to decisions. For this reason, INTPs are usually not in-tune with how people are feeling, and are not naturally well-equiped to meet the emotional needs of others….

They are likely to express themselves in what they believe to be absolute truths. Sometimes, their well thought-out understanding of an idea is not easily understandable by others, but the INTP is not naturally likely to tailor the truth so as to explain it in an understandable way to others. The INTP may be prone to abandoning a project once they have figured it out, moving on to the next thing….

I’m especially bad about that last thing. If I’ve worked hard to figure something out, once I arrive at a conclusion, I’m ready to announce it and move on. And the more people say, “Hey, wait, I need you to explain this some more; I want more evidence to show me how you arrived at that conclusion,” I get extremely impatient. You may have noticed this happening in some of my exchanges with Doug, because he’s very much about the evidence and the facts and the figures (where I am an N, he is almost certainly an S), while by the time I express an opinion, I am SICK of all that stuff — some of which I may have studied years before.

You’ll note that INTPs also “become very excited over abstractions and theories.” Such as, for instance, Myers-Briggs. I first learned about it in the early 90s when all the editors at The State were tested, and then we shared everyone’s results and discussed them at a retreat. I found it explained a LOT about why I found some of those folks easy to work with, and some not. I was the only INTP supervisor in the newsroom at that time.

For folks of other types, this is probably beyond boring. But at Kathryn’s behest, I share it nonetheless. Hopefully, one of my next few posts will be more to your liking.

25 thoughts on “About all that MBTI stuff…

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    My husband, the theoretical computer science professor, is also an INTP. This type is known to discount the validity of the Myers-Briggs until shown the validating data. He did just that.

    He’s far more absent-minded than you, though Brad, and less practical. One of his areas of research is into quantum computing–not only is it computer science theory, it uses a theoretical computer.

    This goes to show that, as scout and I have pointed out, MB types are amalgams of where one falls along a continuum. In addition, they merely show preferences, not immutable characteristics–and one is encouraged to develop one’s weaker sides.

  2. bud

    If I’ve worked hard to figure something out, once I arrive at a conclusion, I’m ready to announce it and move on. And the more people say, “Hey, wait, I need you to explain this some more; I want more evidence to show me how you arrived at that conclusion,”

    Isn’t it possible, that the reason people say “Hey, wait” is because you really haven’t figured something out at all? Seems like you tend to reach a conclusion based on flawed or imperfect evidence then move out and no matter what evidence is presented you tend to stick with your convictions. An example of that is when confronted with overwhelming, incontrovertible, iron-clad, unassailable evidence that George W. Bush misled the country about WDM in Iraq. Clearly there is nothing on this earth more clear-cut than that.

  3. Doug Ross

    I;m definitely an ISTJ. But the problem I see with the categorization is that all the definitions of the various combinations of letters are presented as positive. In the Myers-Briggs world, there doesn’t appear to be any dumb people or jerks.

  4. Brad

    Yeah, they really push the idea that no type is BETTER than others, just different.

    Of course, I see some of the description of my type as sounding like a jerk. But then I’m intuitive; I’m about reading between the lines.

  5. Brad

    Bud, I could say the same about people who made up their minds that Iraq was a failure in 2006 (or earlier) and refused to re-evaluate on the basis of subsequent information.

    But basically, your example is flawed, since I look at the same evidence that you do and don’t see this simple slam-dunk that enables you to say something like that. Because the evidence isn’t there.

    What you need to understand is that this sort of introverted, intuitive decision-making isn’t some sort of “gut” thing. Not at all. In fact, that would bring us close to emotional decision-making, which to an INTP is anathema. It’s simply a different way of processing information. It’s like… you ever take a Rorschach test? I’m not up on all the theory on that, but as I understand it, the important thing isn’t WHAT you see in the inkblot, but whether you perceive it as a whole or get interested in the details around the edges. It’s like the difference between forest and trees, although that’s imperfect, because it suggests I don’t see trees at all. I do — and if a significant number of them don’t fit the concept of the forest I’ll have to re-evaluate, but generally I perceive enough of them to know whether they support the forest thesis.

    It’s a little like “Rain Man,” but not quite. If the Rain Man had been with Gen. Custer at the Little Big Horn, he would have glanced at the advancing Indians and said, “There are 5,647 of them” or some such. I would glance at them, and — already knowing the size of Custer’s force, and how equipped, and how far reinforcements were and the broader tactical situation — would say, “General, you’d better get the hell out of here.” Now an engineer might want to sit down and calculate it on paper, but I would not.

    All right, silly example. Anyone could have seen there were too many Indians.

    Back to your example. I know what is known about WMD. I don’t ignore it. To narrow it down, I’m familiar with the situation in which Joe Wilson was dispatched to Niger to try to determine whether Saddam had tried to obtain yellowcake. I’m aware that the Intelligence committee report found that Wilson’s mission was inconclusive, and that if anything it made the yellowcake story seem slightly more likely. Of course, Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame have become important witnesses to the antiwar folks because they maintain his mission somehow undermined the WMD story.

    Fine. Whatever. I’m not inclined to argue any of it, because in the end there were no WMD. All the assumptions, all the intel indicating there was, all the evidence of Saddam’s having used gas in the past, is irrelevant in the light of the WMD not being there.

    But another reason that I’m not inclined to argue about it is that the WMD were never for me a significant reason to go into Iraq. I had decided that on the basis of a lot of things observed over the course of the 12 years since the Gulf War. And no, I’m not going to recite them all again, because I’ve done it many times and it never persuades you anyway. (Here’s a link where I’ve set that out before, and here’s another with a different aspect of it.)

    But without anyone saying anything about WMD, I was convinced we needed to take out Saddam, and that in that moment in history we had the opportunity to do so, and that it would have the particularly excellent benefit of advancing our post-9/11 security goals. And I believe that if the war and its aftermath (and the aftermath began about this time in 2003) had been prosecuted properly — the way people like McCain and Graham and Lieberman wanted it prosecuted — those outcomes would have been completely borne out. As it was, it turned (unnecessarily) into a mess thanks to Rumsfeld and Bush, and the best we could hope for by about 2006 was to pull out of it an outcome that would give us reasonable stability without Saddam — something that Gen. Petraeus enabled us to do.

    Anyway, back to my point, or my two points: If you meant to assert by saying “Bush misled the country” that “Bush lied,” you are completely wrong to say “there is nothing on this earth more clear cut.” This planet is full of things more clear-cut than that. But if you meant, “Bush was mistaken,” you’ve got a great case.

    But if you mean to argue about my reasoning for going into Iraq was faulty because there were no WMD, then you are as far off-base as one can be. I was about to type that you’re talking apples and I’m talking oranges, but it’s more like you’re talking apples and I’m not talking about fruit at all.

  6. Kathryn Fenner

    @Doug–Well…the concept is that we all have different gifts. If you read a lot about it, though, as I have said, they point out that you really ought to develop your less-preferred side as well–as a J, you and I need to stop and recheck our work/assumptions. As a T, you might want to consider that feelings and people have a valid place….interestingly, 65% of women are F and 65% of men are T—which is fewer than you might think. Extraversion [as they spell it] and introversion are the ones that just are, but are also the traits that are most susceptible to change as we age–tending to become more introverted in general. The bottom line difference between introverts and extraverts is that extraverts draw energy from being with people, and introverts just get tired out.

  7. scout


    You have to read deeper into the theory than just the generic descriptions of the types to find how the negative stuff manifests itself, but that’s all actually in the theory too. The generic descriptions are kind of the idealized version of what the type can be I think, but we all have baggage that skews us a bit. If you read beyond the intro descriptions, you will also find information on what the unhealthy version of each type will manifest as – i.e. each type has it’s own version of how to be a jerk. Life circumstances interacting with your own idiosyncratic mix of each of the MBTI type elements probably determines if you become more the negative or positive version of your type. Luckily we all can change :)

    My husband is also an ISTJ, so I realize you probably have lost patience with this explanation already. It’s alright. I enjoyed explaining it anyway.

  8. bud

    There are about 7 billion people in the world. And about 7 billion types. To try and pigeon hole people into one of 16 types reminds me of all those silly team building exercises we used to play on company retreats. At the end of the day we went back to our office and did things the way we always did. The exercises just didn’t adapt well to the myriad of situations that came up. I just don’t find it useful to try and categorize people. Is that evidence that I fit into one of the types?

  9. bud

    One more quick point. I find myself an introvert sometimes and an extrovert other times. Even within an individual our personality and worldview is dynamic.

  10. Brad

    Yep, although I don’t know which one.

    Everything you say is completely right. But the main purpose is to provide ways to understand our differences and enable us to live and work better together. As I’ve said, I’ve seen some really bad divisions between people who were Ns and Ss, and between Js and Ps. And I know I’ve hurt feelings (or at least, so I’m told) here on the blog and elsewhere with my T tendencies. These are oversimplifications that nevertheless give us ways to figure out how to tolerate each other better.

  11. Phillip

    As far as “re-evaluating on the basis of subsequent information,” I’ll log in to the blog in 20 years and I’ll agree to agree that Iraq was a success if that seems to be the case at that point, if you’ll be willing to concede that it was a mistake if the far-from-finished-story turns out that way instead. Our attention is understandably focused on Afghanistan now, but Iraq is still very much up for grabs. Here is a slice of part of the story these days, for those who might be interested:


  12. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, bud, I have found it extremely helpful. It has given me insight into how those people I otherwise wouldn’t have understood may be perceiving me, my actions and the world around them. As an ENFJ, I’m pretty empathetic, and overly sensitive at times. Understanding that it wasn’t “something wrong with me” but that there was perhaps a better way to communicate really helps.

    If you have been on bad corporate retreats, I’m sorry–me, too. On the other hand, if you didn’t even try to apply the tools–well, you’re missing out.

    My bet is you are and INT? Introvert, because you aren’t overly concerned with “getting along” with people who you don’t “get” easily, N because you play chess, and T because of the apparent lack of empathy. The P/J question that helps sort is whether you find it easier to start a project or to finish one. I find it difficult to start things, but once I’m started, I whip through. I’m J. My P husband is happy to have a number of open projects, but wrapping them up is tough.

  13. Laurin Manning

    I’m an ENFP. Practically off the chart on each letter. Brad, where were yall having the discussion re: candidates?

  14. scout

    On the J/P question, I didn’t really get the crux of the difference until I read Gifts Differing (http://www.amazon.com/Gifts-Differing-Understanding-Personality-Type/dp/089106074X), rather than some of the other books or websites which simplify things a bit. Most places just describe what the J/P difference looks like – i.e. are you scheduled or not, is your room neat and orderly or messy…etc. Those are just the visible manifestations of the difference. The real difference is – of your two middle letters – which do you do more? Which is dominant? Which is your natural rest position? P’s spend most of their time perceiving (using either their sensing or their intuition – whichever their second letter is). P’s are constantly looking for new information, continuing to evaluate any situation ongoing. J’s spend much more of their time deciding things (either through thinking or feeling). They reach a point much sooner where they feel they have enough information and are ready to act and the subject is closed. It’s a small distinction but for some reason thinking of it as a preference taking in information or making decisions gelled my understanding much more than just looking at a list of characteristics. The crux of the J/P thing is are you more naturally a perceiver or a decider.

  15. Kathryn Fenner

    @Laurin–That’s why you’re a liberal and why you are so good at selling the intangibles of candidates.

  16. Ralph Hightower

    I’m an INTP also.

    Well, I started out in engineering at THE USC; physics & chemistry blew me away, but I found my calling when our freshman engineering class voted to use the Engineering Dept’s DEC PDP-8 instead of using the big monolithic IBM 360 mainframe that nobody saw.
    But I was playing pool with a fellow engineering student at a dorm and I saw the vectors line up to make an impossible shot. I had to shoot forward and have the cluster of balls ricochet to put my target backward from my shot into the corner pocket. A fellow engineering classmate said “It’ll never work”. After the shot, he said “Damn, I don’t believe it.”

    I worked for one company where there were too many “Chiefs” and not enough “Indians”. The company had a great product, but they could not close a sale! As a matter of fact, you go there for breakfast, lunch, or dinner to hobnob with Columbia’s influencers at the Capitol City Club. A hint: the company’s name was put on the building after the AT&T logo came down.

    Now some stuff requires fast analytical action! There was such a moment when I got a third-degree burn. I was changing a boat battery and the pliers hit both poles, arching across my wedding ring; I’m right-handed, but my left hand had better access.
    I did an instant analysis and determined that running up to the house to fill the sink with ice and water would take too long; so I jumped into Lake Murray … in March!
    Another instant analysis tossed away the idea of electrocution. This was DC (Direct Current, 12 volts) not AC (Alternating Current, house current, 110V 60 Hz).
    My quick action saved my finger. I now have a tattoo where my wedding ring once was.

  17. Kathryn Fenner

    “A hint: the company’s name was put on the building after the AT&T logo came down.”

    Gee, Ralph, that doesn’t narrow it down much does it? 😉

    Sounds like you are more of a J, though, with all that quick thinking–and decision-making. (although I have wondered at my husband’s juggling skills–I mean real juggling, with balls or pillows. He learned it at math camp–it’s a big math person thing, and mathematicians are frequently INTP) Sounds like you need to develop your juggling skills with tools–I’d come see that show.

  18. scout

    I am INFP. I don’t know if this is the more the N or the P in me, but I find communicating with other people can be complicated by the fact that I sometimes see more possibilities in things than they do. There are times someone says something to me and I honestly don’t know what they mean because I see several possibilities of how to take it, but they only see the one they mean. I ask for clarification and they sometimes think I’m being obtuse or purposely difficult, but I honestly am just trying to figure out what they mean. It’s frustrating.

    A note on the way Ns perceive – It’s not that I don’t use my senses, it’s that everything I perceive is analyzed for connectedness and cross referenced with all my other experiences – and Ns are good at finding any connectness or patterns to their previous knowledge base. So if you encounter a situation and note a few salient characteristics – you may get a flash of insight to another situation with those characteristics in common and apply what you learned from that situation to the new situation – but all that is not always very conscious – you may not specifically remember the details of the previous situation – you just suddenly have an idea how what your dealing with currently might work. Like after you’ve had experience with enough metaphorical icebergs, when you then encounter the “tip of an iceberg”, you have an instant intuitive sense of what might be below the surface, in this new case. As far as noticing details goes – It’s not that I don’t notice them, but I only retain them well if I can see how they fit into a pattern. It’s not that I don’t notice the trees in the forest, I just couldn’t tell you if a particular tree was a pine or an oak, unless that information was important to the pattern I was working on – then it’d stick.

  19. Michael P.

    “I did an instant analysis and determined that running up to the house to fill the sink with ice and water would take too long; so I jumped into Lake Murray … in March!”

    So your finger got burned and you jumped into Lake Murray. Why didn’t you just stick your hand in the water?

  20. Kathryn Fenner

    @scout–I (ENFJ) have the same “too many possibilities” issues you do–it makes me an effective editor–I see many of the interpretations possible in text, and can better clarify which is meant. I think it’s a strong “N” component. My husband (INTP) also has it–his favorite head-scratcher headline is “Vaccines for children at risk in Congress”

  21. Herb Brasher

    @Pat, I don’t know, but my wife is an ENTJ, and I’m the exact opposite. I remember us being on opposite corners of the chart. Someone asked us once how we were still married, but I guess that goes along with the fact that opposites attract.


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