The testing process seems simple enough: a multiple-choice questionnaire, with a discussion afterward about what your personality type says about you. And yet behind it lies the elaborate business model and enormous marketing push that have enthroned MBTI in the pantheon of human resources programs.
Corporate America has its own religions, and one of them is Myers-Briggs.
How the work began
It was World War II, and Isabel Myers was thinking about peace.
War and peace, in fact, are what the family would come to describe as the true cause and effect of developing the Myers-Briggs indicator. World War II created a need for women to fill professional jobs on the home front. Having read Jung’s theories on type, Isabel Myers saw an opportunity to use personality testing as a way to identify women’s job proclivities on the basis of innate character traits rather than prior professional experience, which many women did not have at the time.
“What Isabel decided was, if she could give people access to knowing their psychological type, it would be a contribution to world peace,” says Katharine Myers, the daughter-in-law of Isabel Myers.
So Isabel had her mission. Soon her home filled with index cards mapping out her theory. Lots of index cards.
Isabel by that time was married, a mother herself and tending a home in Swarthmore, Pa. She found a helper for her project in Katharine Downing, now Myers, whom she paid to help her hand-copy personality types onto 5-by-8-inch cards. The young girl went to school with Isabel’s son Peter, an Eagle Scout.
“In eighth grade, I got a valentine in Morse code,” Katharine recalls. It’s one of her earliest memories of Peter, and the Myers family she would one day marry into. “And that was really the beginning of the rest of our lives.”
Then came the money
At 86 years old, Katharine and Peter are the last living copyright holders of his mother’s and grandmother’s legacy. CPP, however, is the exclusive publisher of the test.
“The folklore is that when it started it made about a thousand dollars,” says Jeffrey Hayes, chief executive of CPP. He won’t say precisely how much it makes today. Just “millions,” as he put it.
The number is more like $20 million in revenue a year.
The framework itself has barely changed since Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Myers created it decades ago, but in the meantime CPP has developed nearly 800 products related to the assessment — guides to interpreting your results, guides for coaching others on interpreting their results, guides for enhancing team-building based on everyone’s results — and translations of the material into 24 languages.