On the Value of Personality Typing

Personality typing systems have long fascinated me.

At age 20 I became obsessed with the Myers-Briggs (MBTI), reading everything I could find and eventually teaching a short course about the MBTI to fellow undergraduates at Berkeley.

I originally typed myself as INTP but soon decided I was actually an INFP—a “feeler” instead of a “thinker”—which felt like a Very Big Realization at the time. I also found value in the the MBTI’s explanation of relationship compatibility, workplace dynamics, and why some kids don’t thrive in school.

Eventually I witnessed the limitations and reductiveness of the MBTI and gravitated toward a more scientific and rigorous system: the Big Five, of which I remain a Big Fan. (The best book I’ve found describing the system is Personality by Daniel Nettle.)

A few years ago, here’s what I scored in the Big Five:

  • Agreeableness: Moderately Low
  • Conscientiousness: High
  • Extraversion: Very High
  • Neuroticism: Exceptionally Low
  • Openness to Experience: Moderately High

I found it entertaining that I was clear Introvert in the MBTI and a clear Extravert in the Big Five.

Most recently, the Enneagram has appeared on my radar, after a few close friends enthusiastically shared it with me.

I initially felt skeptical about the Enneagram for the same reasons that I remain skeptical about the MBTI—it’s a bit too reductive, a bit too unscientific—yet I cannot deny that this system, too, has its finger on the pulse of some version of the truth of human personality… which, of course, is all we can hope to achieve with such systems. They will never fully describe any individual—as the age-old criticism goes—but they can certainly describe clusters of measurable personality traits and how such clustering affect people’s choices, interactions, and perceptions. That’s undeniably valuable.

In the world of the Enneagram, I’m a “7 with 8 wing”… but there’s one description that my friend Milla found online that describes me so damn well that I find myself continually returning to it.

What I’d really love to see a Grand Unified Theory of Personality Types, in which every major personality typing system is overlapped and cross-compared. Yeah—I’d geek out on that.


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