I love to read about people who were a little (or even a lot) out of step with the norms of the era in which they lived. And I mean stepping forward, not backward.

Katharine Cook Briggs (1875-1968) was lucky enough to be born into a family with new-fangled ideas about women and education. Her father was a member of the faculty at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) and he home-schooled Briggs until she left for college at the age of 14. Briggs attended Michigan Agricultural College, earned a degree in agriculture and then worked as a teacher.

Michigan Agricultural College, 1912. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID pan.6a06628. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Briggs began researching personality and psychological typing in 1917 because she believed it would help her with raising her daughter, and with creating fictional characters for her writing. The big breakthrough in her studies was the English publication in 1923 of Psychological Types by Carl Jung (1875-1961).

Briggs corresponded with and met Jung, as well as reading the works of other scientists, psychologists and philosophers. She wanted to put all that she had learned about types to practical use. She worked with her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers (1897-1980), to create a way to discover the 16 personality types of individuals in order to help them identify suitable jobs and to get along better with each other.

Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers, 1921. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Now known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), it is widely used by businesses to determine leadership styles and to facilitate teamwork. It is used by schools to help students define a course of study and action for their futures. And it is used by individuals to gain some self-awareness and play well with others.

I first learned about and took the MBTI about 25 years ago. My cousin is an educator and a bunch of my family all MBTI’d together at a family gathering. (Thanks, Tracy, if you’re reading this!) When we were finished, I read about my personality type and I remember thinking that since there was an actual category that described me so well, that meant there were other people out there in the world who were like me.

That was a bit of a revelation. And a relief. I didn’t have to try to fit into one of the other groups because I already fit somewhere. Because of this, the MBTI will always have a special place in my heart. I have taken other personality assessments over the years for various jobs, but this is the one that matters most to me. You always remember the first.

While reading about this the last couple of days, I have read many criticisms about the survey itself and the way the results are utilized. First of all, personality type is not something that can be tested scientifically like blood type. At least not yet. And it was created in the early 1940s, a time when many ideas were radically different than they are now, so the belief that it contains gender and racial bias is not completely surprising.

Personally, I’ve seen the test skewed because people choose answers that indicate what they believe they “should” think, rather than what they really think. I’ve seen people answer questions in a way that confuses everyone who knows them, indicating that they may want to work on their self-awareness.

If you would like to take a free test that is based on Jung and Myers-Briggs, you can find it here. The site I like that gives you portraits of the 16 different types, which includes a basic overview and suggestions regarding careers, relationships and weaknesses, can be found here.

Along with the whole ahead-of-her-time thing, I had another reason for sharing about Briggs instead of her daughter. Briggs had the idea, the global concept of using personality types to improve people’s lives in various ways. Her daughter was the one who actually sat down to write the questions, tested the questions on others and then made changes. Like Briggs, I am an idea person who has to constantly remind myself to sit down and do the work and not get distracted by a shinier idea.

How about you? If I tell you mine, will you tell me yours?

I’m an ENFP. My Extrovert/Introvert is very, very close so someday I may turn into an INFP.

Feel free to share your type, how you feel about personality typing, or just give a shout out that Briggs attended and graduated from college in the nineteenth century.