Personality Matters - OPP's blog

Reflections on my first 18 months as an MBTI practitioner in the University of Oxford

Posted 10 Aug 2017 by Dr Mike Moss, Alumni Careers Programme Manager, University of Oxford

I am Dr Mike Moss, Alumni Careers Programme Manager at the University of Oxford, and I’ve been invited to write a few words reflecting on my first 18 months as an MBTI practitioner. Before I get to that, I’d like to share a little bit of my journey, as I’m sure we’ve all taken very different paths to get to where we are.

As an INFJ, I did not really speak for the first 12 or so years of my life, and still could not read at seven. I failed the 11+ test. Luckily, the academic year 1973–74 in rural Staffordshire was the last year of the 11+ and the first year of comprehensive education, and despite a slow start, I graduated with a PhD in Chemistry and did a two-year post-doctoral research fellowship at Caltech (California Institute of Technology, where The Big Bang Theory scientists hang out for work). 

Having realised that no-one was reading my academic papers, and yearning to do something real that my mother would understand, I left academia to become a Research & Development Executive at Procter & Gamble (P&G), initially working on laundry detergents. Over 22 years, I patented 54 inventions, including the multicoloured pouches known as Ariel 3-in-1 Pods (in the US, they were called Tide Pods). 

It was here that my current career path really started. In the early years at P&G, my social incompetence was exposed at every turn, but I was keen to learn and attended a course on Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. This was the start of a journey to becoming a coach, MBTI practitioner and organisational culture enthusiast, and coaching became my default mode of interaction with the world. I coached my team, my boss, my children and eventually my wife. So, the poacher became game-keeper and I started to have great success in developing others and setting up highly productive, creative working environments. This eventually led me to the University of Oxford and a role in the Careers Service. 

To my recollection, I have done the Myers-Briggs questionnaire three times and got the same four-letter type each time. My reported type is normally ENFJ, but the E is in low single digits, and I self report as an introvert. At this stage in my life, I am socially confident and give many presentations and lectures, but I have to recover afterwards alone with my piano or guitar. 

The first time I did the questionnaire, around 1995, was a revelation. At that time, the workforce comprised baby boomers who did not expect to love their job. Instead, they adapted to the work environment, doing whatever it took to be successful. Many ‘put on a mask at the gate’, because at that time you were not rewarded for being an individual – you were rewarded for conforming, playing the game, or climbing the ladder or greasy pole. After completing the MBTI questionnaire I realised that one reason I’d been reluctant to speak up in meetings was this: I thought that what I was thinking was obvious to everyone. After learning that everyone thinks differently, and now suspecting that most of my bosses have been ESTJ and ENTJ, I started to speak up and be appreciated for my insights. The mask was off. I attended OPP’s MBTI practitioner training in January 2016 (to my delight, I was sitting next to an Oxford alumnus – the people I support. Even better, he was INFJ too).

The previous practitioner at Oxford University Careers Service (OUCS) had mainly used the MBTI framework with researchers. While it is true that researchers are more mature and can perhaps get more out of an MBTI feedback session, I wanted to open things up to students and alumni. People mature at different rates, and undergraduates can get a lot out of the MBTI framework, as can Masters students, mature students and alumni of all ages. In order to help my colleagues get an insight into what I wanted to do, I encouraged them to do the MBTI questionnaire – and everyone did, which meant I did 30 of them in the OUCS. Over the last 18 months I have facilitated more than 200 MBTI feedback sessions – 67 using the online questionnaire, 20 via Skype one-to-ones, and as part of three workshops with the Nuffield Department of Population Health, Somerville College and the Laidlaw Scholars. The rest used the self-scorable paper questionnaires. 

I hold a monthly workshop with about twelve participants consisting of students, researchers and alumni. What I have learned from the workshops and feedbacks I have delivered is that there’s an NTJ bias here, but a balanced mix of E and I. iNtuition types make up around 25% of the general population, but of the Oxford University people who have come through my workshops, around two-thirds have been iNtuition types. I have also noticed that, of those people, around two-thirds have Thinking and Judging preferences, compared with 50% of the general population. And where NTJ is 4.3% of the general population, it is overrepresented here by a factor of almost 10, making up about 40% of the Oxford University population in these initial studies.

Of course, this is not research, more of an observation of the people who have come through OUCS and completed MBTI questionnaires. 

Relationships are a core theme, because MBTI insights can help with understanding even slight differences in thinking between a research supervisor, tutor or classmates.. Scientists often report that their laboratory environment has a cultural expectation for a Sensing preference, but MBTI can change this. It gives iNtuition types a language to explain why they might have felt like misfits, and it gives them confidence in guiding research strategy.

We will continue to help Oxford students, researchers and alumni with their self-awareness and relationship challenges as they embark on their futures and careers, and the MBTI instrument is an important tool in this journey.

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