In 1942, a mother-daughter duo created a personality test that would captivate a generation.
It was the middle of World War II, and Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers wanted to create a way for women—many of whom were entering the industrial workforce for the first time—to find a job that would match their personalities. After the war, the test was administered to help soldiers find a “life closer to [their] heart’s desire.”
Some 70 years later, the world’s most famous personality test is squarely aimed at the workplace again.
The two main distributors of the assessment—CPP in the US and OPP in the UK—are coming together to form a new business, a certified B corporation called The Myers-Briggs Company, which will both administer the test at companies and consult with them on its findings. In the future, The Myers-Briggs Company aims to use personality tests as a launchpad to help businesses understand each of their employees as an individual—or at least one of 16 categories of an individual.
“Understanding your personality helps you understand yourself, but more importantly, in a workplace context, it helps you understand others,” says Jeff Hayes, the former head of CPP and the CEO of the new venture, which launched today (Oct. 18). He believes that there’s a dearth of self-awareness in the workplace. By developing an understanding of how others take in and process information, he thinks we can all become more empathetic teammates.
Some companies, like Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, already go all-in on personality tests. Every new Bridgewater employee takes the Myers-Briggs assessment in the first few days on the job. “When I was getting to know my colleagues during the year I worked there, we would exchange Myers-Briggs acronyms before almost anything else—a replacement for typical office small-talk,” writes Leah Fessler, a Quartz reporter who used to work at Bridgewater.
As Fessler notes, a personality test will never reflect the nuance and complexity of a full person, but it can certainly be a helpful guide.
At the office, a colleague or manager can use your personality type to glean insight into your working style and how you prefer to collaborate. As for the people taking the test, they may not find their own results all that surprising, but they’ll at least have a built-in opportunity to reflect on what they know to be true about themselves, which is always a valuable exercise.