Personality tests

After seeing it on Charlie Stross’s diary, I just did an on-line Myers-Briggs personality test. The results?


ISFP – “Artist”. Interested in the fine arts. Expression primarily through action or art form. The senses are keener than in other types. 5% of the total population.

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Artist? I’m an artist? The last M-B test I did was back at teacher training college. I don’t remember what personality type I came out as back then, but I’m damn sure it wasn’t “Artist”. Have I changed so much since then?

I’m generally disinclined to put much stock in personality tests. I’m happy enough to spend a few minutes filling in the answers to silly questions to find out what science fiction/fantasy character I am. (Boromir, hmph; at least I go out in a blaze of glory.) But it’s painfully easy to second-guess the questions and subvert the results to reflect your own deluded self-image. If you think they’re anything more revealing than, say, your star sign, then that in itself says more about you than the average test does.

(Myers-Briggs tests can be an exception. M-B personality typing is a well-understood field, and properly administered tests try to take personal bias into account. Most on-line versions aren’t properly administered, but some do make an attempt to minimize the influence of ego (or should that be the id?) by asking the same question in different ways.)

I’d be far more interested in seeing a site that allowed other people to answer questions about you. Now that would be revealing.

When I joined the Royal Bank of Scotland as a trainee in 1996, a group of us got sent to Barfil Farm (and Management Centre) in Dumfriesshire for a team-building course with the excellent Bob Lee. After three days of seminars, role-playing exercises, intensive team-working, and a certain amount of alcohol, we had a round-table session where each of us had to evaluate someone else. We were given a sheet of paper with a bundle of adjectives on it, and we had to circle the ones we thought were most appropriate to our subject.

Now, I don’t even remember which of my other fellow trainees I had to report on, let alone what I said about them. I also don’t remember any of the positive things that were said about me. But here are are three adjectives that will forever be etched in my memory: distant, ruthless, and patronising.

They resonated with me because I dislike those traits in other people. I didn’t (and don’t) want to be like that myself, but that was how someone perceived me. Someone who was not close enough to be a friend (and therefore wary of hurting my feelings), yet not so unfamiliar that they had no idea who I really was (because of the three days of working closely together). Basically, someone who had enough information to form a decent, relatively objective opinion.

Having that external perspective allows me to do something about it. Knowing what I want to avoid, I can (try to) modify my actions and behaviour. In comparison, virtually any on-line test you take will try to massage any negative traits into admirable strengths. You may be a cold-blooded serial killer, but at you’re also methodical, tidy, and have a strongly developed sense of natural justice. Hum.

Don’t expect to develop self-knowledge in isolation, or through self-administered personality tests. At heart, everyone thinks they’re pretty decent. To see the whole picture, you have to seek out your reflection in the mirror of other people. On the one hand, this can be a gift:

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
     An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
     And ev’n Devotion!

Robert Burns – To A Louse

On the other hand, chances are you won’t like what you see. Jean-Paul Sartre, ever the optimist, put it succinctly: “L’enfer, c’est les autres.” Hell is other people. Being told that you don’t actually match up to your own image of perfection and virtue is both painful, and immensely valuable.

There are all sorts of lessons here about pride and humility, applicable to fields ranging from writers workshops to international politics. But I’ll leave you to think about them for yourself.

A 400g Toblerone day

You know those days when you just have to eat an entire 400g bar of Toblerone chocolate triangles? I’ve been having a lot of those lately.

Fortunately for my waistline, I haven’t been giving in to the temptation. Today was an exception, though. After several weeks of searching, this morning I accepted a nice job offer, and gave notice of resignation to my current employer. If that’s not worthy of some chocolate gluttony, I don’t know what is.