All of us love to know more about ourselves and about others, and it is rare that a person doesn’t get drawn to a questionnaire promising an expansive insight. Even if it is in a salon magazine!
Most corporate citizens get exposed to more formal versions of such questionnaires/inventories wrapped in unnecessary significance, compensated ironically through shoddy debrief, insufficient context setting, and little or no inputs on the caveats of how to use it. The field of psychometrics gets grossly under-utilised, when it is not being obscenely misused. Busy executives are caught between rigid pedagogues, and nimble ignorants, unless discreet themselves.
Recently I read two articles, the first pleaded to use Myers-Briggs to influence others, the other urged to just forget about MBTI …quite representative of the world including HBR, Forbes and Fortune articles on both sides of the divide. Since Myers-Briggs (MBTI) is the most popular of all such tests, I use that as a case in point and expand the discussion to a wide category as a whole, which includes DISC, Thomas, Big 5 and others.
For a very long time in every such discussion I have taken the meta-position.
Meta-position is the vantage point of being able to see both sides of an argument, sometimes even a little more, and be able to appreciate the big picture integrating the two sides.
In other words, it is a place from where one can see the merit of both sides. This is concurrent with the big picture which makes the apparent differences futile.
When people are open to new perspectives on their old understanding (Rare!), this meta-position can even be shared through a simple rephrasing of the original question.
The question whether these tests (and the insights there of) are useful, translates as
“Can psychometrics be predictive?”
It is not an invalid question. But it can also not be answered in a yes or no. I would respond to it, thus
“Psychometrics is Meta-Predictive. It is a Dynamic prediction, not a static one!”
In a nutshell:
Psychometrics can be more predictive for a specific individual when used as meta-predictor, that is, for a general orientation or direction, rather than a specific action or spot. Very simply, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the chances are pretty good that it is a duck! When the time is less, say interviewing a fresh graduate, it is sufficiently predictive of her general leanings towards research or marketing.
The promise of insights from the domain of psychometrics do go beyond. Something like, if it swims like a fish, but doesn’t breathe or breed like a fish, (and is rather large!) chances are that it is a mammal, and you would do good to treat it like a whale!!
Psychometrics is more predictable for a specific individual over a longer period of time. You may be wrong many times if you try to predict the behaviour or choices of the individual on the basis of the test outcome. However, as the number of instances increase over time, you will find the behaviour aligning with the prediction more and more. A person showing up as Outgoing may be found secluded and deeply engrossed in preparing the next big plan when seen randomly, but clearly different if observed over a longer period of time.
Psychometrics is more and more precise for larger and larger groups: As the number of people you are gauging through the tests and paradigms increases, so does the precision of the prediction. For instance, the predictive capacity of whether a specific person is risk-averse or not may be limited*. But if we look at the results (data) of a say two groups of 900 each can be more predictive: that the group showing 700 risk averse people will need far more effort with the new Change Initiative than the one with 300 risk averse people.
Finally, to make it more reliable, have a “Hypothesis-Testing” approach. It is always worth the investment of time and effort but seldom used deliberately. Use the outcome of the test (or your view of the person on the basis of that paradigm) to create the first hypothesis. Keep confirming or rejecting it deliberately, and modify the hypothesis accordingly. (Your first hypothesis may be a fish, and the final, a mammal…what a whale of an insight!! )
Instead of relying on yourself to do this hypothesis testing all by yourself , have buddies and coaches support you with it during the “conscious competence” phase, till you get to the “unconscious competence”.
Meta-predictive would be easier for people who understand probability:
Predicting a coin would yield heads up in the next flip is imprecise to a dangerous degree (50%). Predicting 500 of the next 1000 flips would show heads up is 99% precise in prediction.
When we say the chances of an event happening are 99%, it does not mean that the event will surely happen. It means that there is one in a hundred chance that event will NOT happen. For instance, the chances of throwing 6 with a dice is 1/6 or 16.7%. A lot of us can’t hold this greyness in a casino, or even in Ludo!
That is not because probability is flawed knowledge, but because our default design, the human design, is unable to hold this knowledge in one’s awareness or cognition, even if we understand it. More importantly, because we acquire an incomplete knowledge of it or do not spend enough time with it. And still try to play a strong hand with it! Though every bit worth chasing, getting to advance concepts of conditional probability or redundancy is a distant dream.
In its highest glory for more than half a century, probability predicts the position of planes with a great level of precision through the radar. But a lot of people can only think of how their chances of winning on a lottery ticket would increase with that knowledge!
Though the amateurs use it precisely for the opposite,
the purpose of probability is not to make you strong in your next casino visit. Similarly, the purpose of psychometrics, nay all of psychology, is to take you away from callous judgements, and judgemental predictions.
The amateurs use it precisely for that, and create the allergy for it.
The personality or preferences of a person does not work like an equation where putting in a value gives you an exact outcome immediately. It is a complex equation in nature like a polynomial equation. However, as long as you hold the awareness that there are subtleties around it, you can start and accomplish huge work even with the simplest versions.
Hold back both IS and IS not, likely to happen & not likely to happen
allow this hypothesis testing to play out and tweak it as you go along
Understand that with greater and greater time and attention investment, the meta-prediction will become more and more definite, more and more precise. It will never be like a formula though. At best, tending to the limits of the meta-prediction, but never the substitute values.
I am sincerely hoping that Meta-Predictive as a term finds way in common conversations, and as an attitude in common mind-set, starting with psychometrics!