Who doesn’t love a personality test? There’s a reason why online quizzes like “Which Succession Character Are You?” make the rounds on Slack, and why—despite being described by researchers as an “act of irresponsible armchair philosophy”—Myers-Briggs remains so popular.
It’s easy to understand the allure of such tests. If you can relate to a type, you can better explain why you feel and act the way that you do. And if you understand the traits of your friends, co-workers, and loved ones, then all their little ticks that drive you mad no longer feel so frustrating. They’re an “INTP” type, after all.
While there are countless professional personality tests to choose from, sifting through all the information about them online can be overwhelming. It’s difficult to work out not only which tests are scientifically valid, but also what they can offer groups of creatives. The makeup of a team of designers, art directors, and project managers will likely be very different to that of a tax department, so a personality test will offer a creative team different insights than it would a financial one. That’s why we’ve asked a group of professionals to help us demystify five popular personality tests, with a focus on how they might benefit the creative workplace.
There are many reasons to try the following tests, and also many reasons to take their results with a grain of salt. “Personality tests can be useful in terms of team building because they’re actually really fun to do together,” says Alisa Cohn, an executive coach who has worked with teams at Etsy and The New York Times, “but you shouldn’t be spending your whole life doing them.”
According to Arthur B. Markman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, a good test can “provide information that helps groups work together more effectively.” But there’s a danger in overinterpreting results: “We have to recognize that even with the best personality tests, those results are only going to predict about 20% of the difference in behavior that you see between people, and that’s in the best condition.”
With an understanding that personality tests aren’t going to solve all of your creative or collaborative problems, it’s time to find out: Which personality test is right for your team?
1. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Let’s begin with the classic. In a nutshell, the MBTI attempts to summarize how an individual approaches the world. Personality types are indicated through their assignment to four polarized characteristics: people are either extroverted or introverted, sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling, judging or perceiving. So if you’re introverted, sensing, feeling, and perceiving, then you’re an ISFP type.
The MBTI was originally developed to help match newly working women with suitable jobs during the Second World War, so now it’s quite antiquated from a scientific point of view. “It doesn’t predict anything, so it’s just a bad test,” summarizes Markman. “People are multifaceted,” adds Cohn, “so just because you’re a natural P style, doesn’t mean you can’t run an effective meeting or meet deadlines.” Ultimately, the test’s binary opposites make it limiting: It doesn’t paint a nuanced picture of a person.
On the other hand, the MBTI’s broad strokes can help bring people together—as long as the results are taken lightly. “I recently had a group of creatives who bonded over their shared NFP style,” says Cohn. “There were a couple in the group who didn’t have the same style, and wouldn’t you know, those were the folks that were causing a lot of conflict on the team. The resulting back-and-forth gave them all a language to joke about the issues and pull together.”
2. The Big Five
If you’re hoping for a more complex and scientifically sound personality profile than the Myers-Briggs, then look no further than The Big Five. It explores five characteristics: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, forming the acronym OCEAN. Each factor is measured on a scale; for instance, extreme extraversion and extreme introversion form two polar ends. The Big Five aims to explain the biggest differences between people, so it’s especially useful for shining light on group conflicts.
And what can the Big Five offer creative teams, specifically? “You often need a couple of disagreeable people in a creative group, because you need someone who’s willing to tell everyone, ‘No, this idea actually stinks,’” says Markman. “But if you’re leading a team, you want to be able to tell that person, ‘We need you to let the idea develop a bit so that we don’t kill it before we’ve considered it’s potential.’”
Creatives also tend to have a high score when it comes to “openness,” but they’re moderate to low in “conscientiousness,” so don’t always complete the things that they start. “Once you know this about yourself, you learn that you’re going to have to develop strategies to overcome your tendency to let things slide,” says Markman, “and it might be good to surround yourself with people who nag you to finish things.”
3. The VIA Character Strengths Survey
If your team is on the sensitive side (and who are we kidding, what creative takes criticism well?), then the VIA Character Strengths Survey might be the assessment for you. The psychological measure is designed to identify a person’s “core strengths,” so they can learn how to better capitalize on them. For example, it will show you whether you’re a good social catalyst, good at nurturing others, or good at generating ideas. Why focus on the negatives when you can focus on the positives?
When it comes to strengths that are invaluable to a creative team, vulnerability is essential, Markman suggests. During idea generation sessions, sometimes people need to be willing to come out and say things that aren’t perfect, because that sparks new ways of thinking through a problem. And good social catalysts can help others be vulnerable: sociability is therefore another invaluable strength.
“Understanding the kinds of strengths that people have, and giving them a sense of their strengths, is something generally valuable in the workplace,” says Markman. “And as creativity is so much about group dynamics and the culture of an organization, teams will really want to pay attention to what is it that their people are bringing to the table.”
If you work in the creative field, it’s safe to say you’ve likely come across a fair few narcissists—so in love with their own designs that they can think of little else. Or, if you yourself cannot tolerate criticism well and believe that only special people can understand you, then it’s possible a bit of narcissism runs through your own veins. Many successful leaders have a touch of the trait, so it’s not exclusively a bad thing.
There are degrees of narcissism, and understanding its tendencies in yourself and others may make dealing with it a bit easier. While we do not recommend that teams quiz themselves as a group for narcissism, it may be helpful to explore tests like the Narcissistic Personality Inventory on your own in order to familiarize yourself with the trait’s degrees. That way, you can shield yourself from potential narcissists around you.
“There are two brands of narcissism,” says Markman. “Grandiose narcissists are focused primarily on their own specialness and they often put themselves up for positions of recognition and authority. It can be a little frustrating for people beneath them to feel like the people above are getting credit for their own contributions.” The second kind of narcissist is a bit more dangerous—a vulnerable narcissist. “Those are people who not only believe they’re special but need to be reminded all the time, by everybody else, how special they are,” says Markman. “They can be really bad to have as a boss because they don’t want anyone disagreeing with them.”
5. Creative Types
For those searching for something a bit more playful and less time-consuming than the tests above, try Creative Types. It can be done for free online in under 10 minutes during a lunch break, plus it comes with a stylish 3D avatar (*new Slack profile pic alert*).
The personality test (designed by Anyways for Adobe Create) helps you explore your “creative personality,” and uses psychological research to assess your habits in order to understand which type you’ll pair best with. There are eight possible types, including The Adventurer, The Dreamer, The Producer, The Innovator, and The Artist. While as a creative you’ll probably have a bit of all eight inside of you, the test aims to provide you with a little glimpse into your most defining creative trait.
Ultimately, Creative Types has been designed by creatives, for creatives. Although it lacks the heftier research backing (or opposing) the aforementioned tests, it does appeal exclusively to creatives in a way that the first three may not. “I never took personality tests because they reminded me of a career fair—they felt quite dry and technical, and more like an exam,” says Creative Type art director Charlie Sheppard of Anyways. “While making the Creative Types test, we therefore asked ourselves: Is this something that we would want to take? Is this something our peers would do? We decided to bring a playful narrative to it and make something visually stimulating and abstract, especially for creatives who may think in a more abstract and visual way.”