This week my facebook friends have been Ja Ja Binks, a wannabee geek, Mr Burns, Dylan the Rabbit and the scary one with the ginger hair!
Am I alone in being amazed at the vast number of personality tests out there and at puzzling over why we are addicted to taking them?
I do not know which Star Wars character I most resemble and I have little interest in finding out but I have found myself considering paying $100 for a wealth dynamics profile and I am a wondering why?
Over the years I have taken a fair few personality tests and have found that while some traits stay constant – the fact that I’m still female is actually the only one that springs to mind – most have changed depending upon my age, state of mind and whether I really wanted the job! That is to say it is often easy to give the answers that the questioner wants; we give the answer that we think will show the character traits that we want to be revealed at that time.
Defenders of the personality test will no doubt suggest that the better, more sophisticated programs will be able to see through our artifice, that they will be able to discern the real Dorothy under our created-for-the day persona.
I’m not so sure.
A close friend who is very successful, very bright but totally self-absorbed recently completed a profile that showed her to be tolerant and nurturing. In my opinion, and that of everyone else that knows her, this is complete nonsense. She has many fine and positive attributes but tolerance and compassion are definitely not among them. The interesting thing, however, is that she sees herself as a nurturing person. Could it be that her self-delusion is so complete that it allowed her to fool the system?
But the accuracy of the diagnosis is not my main concern with these profiles. The big problem is what are you supposed to do with the information? It might be comforting to complete a profile and see that you are Princess Leah, pretty, brave and always gonna get your man, but what real use is that information, other than to generate a warm glow to the ego while you enjoy a well-earned coffee break – after all you deserve a break, you have just spent 20 minutes working on your laptop filling in a personality profile!
It seems to me that knowing the kind of person you are is only a small part of the picture.
Another friend has a small tattoo saying “knowledge is power”. To an extent that is true but it is the use to which you put the knowledge that is the real power. I know that Liverpool will not win the league without a couple of quality signings and probably a change in manager but I have no power to act on that knowledge and so am condemned to spend another season with my head in my hands listening to the boasts of Mancunians.
Having the ability and opportunity to do something with the knowledge you have is the key.
So, maybe I should take the test as part of a workshop session so that I can be given advice on what to do with that information. In theory that seems like an answer, but is it really? Well, provided that the people running the workshop are not complete cowboys, and I will assume for the sake of this argument that they are not, then two days support is better than nothing, surely?
My gut feeling is that change, proper, integrated, permanent change can only come from within. We are all looking for a quick fix – oh look, I am Princess Leah but will you still be Princess Leah tomorrow or the next day or next year? Will a stranger, or an automated personality profile, telling you that you are Princess Leah make it possible for you to head off and blow up a Death Star? I think not. If you feel certain that you are Princess Leah then you can go off and save The Empire but that knowledge, certainty, power comes from within.
Not convinced? Think about this. When most women are asked what they most want, it is to lose weight. Our own bodies are, pretty much, the only things that we can fully control. The formula is very simple. Everyone knows it: eat less, or exercise more, or both. No-one force feeds me cake and red wine. We all control what goes into our bodies so the one thing we can do on our own if we want to, surely, is to lose weight. But it is still top of our wish list. If we cannot do the one thing that we really can do on our own how can we hope to take control of other aspects of our lives that are subject, in many big and small ways, to the influence of other people?
As I mentioned to a friend and colleague when we were discussing this the other day, I already know my profile – I’m a sceptic!