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Steve Mullen: Ulysses Grant, Frankenberry, and me

 

Steve Mullen

 

I''m engaged in a project which is requiring me to take a personality test. 

 

If you''ve had access to the Internet for more than five minutes, then you''ve probably taken a baker''s dozen of tests and quizzes. Some are serious, like those that gauge healthy habits or depression. Online IQ tests are rampant and common. Many tests are less serious -- If you''re on Facebook, then you probably know what kid''s cereal mascot or ''80s movie character you''re most like. 

 

Many of us have taken IQ tests, even before they proliferated on the Internet, for reasons as varied as getting into an advanced school or out of an asylum.  

 

For me, a couple of tests stand out. If you''re a manager or have worked in a corporate environment, chances are you''ve come across one or both of these animals: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the DISC assessment. 

 

I''m being asked to take the Myers-Briggs test again. Stay with me here -- these sound much more high-falutin'' than they really are.  

 

I''ve taken both tests before, a few times over the years. By asking a series of "yes" or "no" questions, the test supposedly plumbs the depths of your psyche, presenting you at the end (in the case of Myers-Briggs) with four letters that describe your personality type. 

 

There are a few reasons these tests are done. Clearly, the most obvious is a deep-seated conspiracy to support a nationwide racket of consultants, who do nothing but travel from town to town, company to company, to administer these tests, in order to justify their own existence and give company managers some much-needed "personal development" time. 

 

The less-cynical reason is to teach managers how to spot these traits in others, thereby managing them more effectively by playing to their personality types.  

 

One side effect of taking these tests is, five minutes after taking them, you forget what you scored. That way, when you wind up in a different seminar years later, you can take the test with a fresh start, and be surprised each time. I think this is a subliminal, hypnotic feature built into the test. (President Obama should study this effect the next time he chooses to speak directly to schoolchildren.) 

 

Sometimes you''re asked to take these tests in a group setting. In the case of the thing I''m involved in now, we were allowed to take it online, and then show up with our four-letter personality type. This arrangement has the added benefit of allowing you to skate over to Facebook and figure out what cocktail and type of dog you are as well. 

 

Here''s the important thing: As with any personality test, whether it''s serious psychological theory or what Muppet character you are, you don''t want to lie to yourself. Which makes the yes-or-no Myers-Briggs questions that much more maddening. 

 

For example, answer these questions (which are actually statements): 

 

You are almost never late for your appointments. Yes or no. 

 

Of course, your first instinct is "yes." But wait a minute -- "almost never late?" what does that mean? Of course, I try never to be late. Yes, I''m late sometimes. But "almost never?" Is that a double-negative? How many times is that? 

 

You enjoy having a wide circle of acquaintances. 

 

Well, yes, of course. Hold it a minute, though. A "wide circle?" And they''re "acquaintances" -- does that mean close friends or people I am comfortable saying "hi" to on the street? Am I enjoying them all at once? And are you assuming right off the bat that I have this "wide circle?" You seem to think that I do. Are they literally encircling me? Because that would be creepy. 

 

You usually plan your actions in advance. 

 

Yes. Hang on -- how far in advance? Five minutes? Several weeks? I decided to make a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch today, which was pretty spur of the moment. Are you referring to the act of deciding to run home for lunch today (spur of the moment), or the act of buying the delicious American cheese singles and loaf of bread (clearly I knew I''d eat them some time from now, just not precisely when)? Does it matter that my wife did the shopping? 

 

You often do jobs in a hurry. 

 

I have a newspaper to put out in the next five minutes. I''m spending too much time on this column. Are you suggesting I don''t care? Does your test know I''m on deadline, or will you just think I''m sloppy? Not that you say that. But you''re implying it. 

 

After repeating the above 72 times, you click to submit the test.  

 

You are then instantly informed what type of person you are. 

 

With this type of test, there are 16 four-letter outcomes, based primarily on if you''re an "extrovert" or an "introvert." The earth''s 6.8 billion people are all placed into one of these 16 types.  

 

I submitted my test, and got my type, which may or may not be how I tested the last time I took it (darn that subliminal hypnotism).  

 

I am an INTJ -- "Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging." Our nickname is the "mastermind" (other names include "architect," "healer," "teacher," "supervisor," etc.)  

 

Only 1 percent of the population fits in my class, so I am told. (Hey, you other 68 million masterminds, let''s do lunch next week and compare notes.) 

 

The test also gives you a description, and a list of people who are in your personality class.  

 

My posse is a bunch of scientists and economists -- Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Sir Isaac Newton, Frideriche Nietsche, Niels Bohr, etc. -- none of whom I''d like to hang out with. (In fact, I''d like to punch a couple of them in the stomach for making my high school years so miserable. Where''s the jerk that invented algebra? Step up front.) 

 

Some generals and world leaders were on the list, though; folks I''d love to interview -- Dwight Eisenhower, Colin Powell, Augustus Caesar, U.S. Grant -- none of whom would like hanging out with me. 

 

But that''s just what makes us all INTJs, yo. That''s how we get down. 

 

I ran the full description by my wife. It sounded kosher to her. I told her the type is called "mastermind." She laughed, asking: "You mean like Hitler?" 

 

Funny. (Wait a minute. I don''t want to be Hitler. Better Google that, and retake if needed. Oh, Hitler''s an INFJ? Whew.) 

 

Hitler jokes aside, there is some value here. Honestly assessing one''s strengths and weaknesses is a constructive exercise. Don''t like the result? Then work on the aspects of your personality you think should be more prominent. 

 

Even so, I can''t help but take all online tests like this with equal weight -- whether it be my alleged personality type, or what cereal I''m most like. 

 

Ulysses Grant, or Frankenberry? Both sound pretty good to me. 

 

Steve Mullen is managing editor of The Dispatch. Reach him at smullen@cdispatch.com.

 

Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.

 

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