Profiling Shocks

Profiling Shocks

“I scored 8 out of 10 today” I told Lulu, my parrot, who was perched on the mango tree. I was speaking about a recent workshop where I had delivered a talk. “You know – I have never scored more than 8.5”. I removed my specs and rubbed my eyes.

“That’s interesting”

“What’s interesting?” I put on my specs again and gave Lulu a good curious look, the kind which a prof gives a student asking a question.

“That you are evaluating yourself. People usually evaluate others!”

“That is so true. We HR professionals feel that we can read people well.”

“Oh! That’s interesting.”

“We have MBTI, Belbin, Firo-B and a host of psychological tests which do profiling. They are so accurate.”


“When you show the result to the persons profiled, they say “Oh, that’s me!””

“Really? Hmmm ….”

“Why, you seem to be doubting this ….”

“Have you read ‘Goodbye to MBTI, the Fad That Won’t Die’? 

“Nope! Who’s the author?”

Adam Grant” 

“Really? Adam Grant?”

“Yes. I want you to read about the Barnum Effect.” In a nutshell, the message is ‘Profiling is pseudoscience.’ This is also called the Forer Effect.”

“That’s shocking. I can’t believe this ….”

“Let me read out from this Eric Barker book ‘Plays Well With Others’. ‘In 1948, Bertram Forer, a college professor, gave a written personality test to his students. A week later he gave them each a custom profile describing their unique personality based on the results. Forer asked them to rate the profile between 0 and 5, 5 being most accurate. The class average was a 4.3, with only one student giving it less than a 4.’


And then Forer told them the truth . . . they had all received the exact same profile. Yet every one of them had looked at the dossier and said, “Yup, that’s uniquely true of me.” Know where Forer got the profile from? An astrology book!!

“This is shocking. We do so much work on profiling. I have done mine too. I am an INTJ. Same as Adam Grant!”

“Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Nietzsche and Issac Newton are also INTJs! But take a good look at the Forer experiment. Many experiments have repeatedly shown that profiling does not work.”

“I mean… You have shaken me and my beliefs. People say the profiling is accurate, right?”

The Barnum effect refers to the tendency for people to accept as uncannily descriptive of themselves the same generally worded assessment as long as they believe it was written specifically for them on the basis of some ‘diagnostic’ instrument such as a horoscope or personality inventory.”


“People turn to crystal balls and tarot cards not for hard answers but for a story that gives them a feeling of control over their lives.”

“I don’t know what to say”

“That’s simple”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t focus on profiling. There is a simple and effective tool to understand people.”

“Tell me ….”

“Just listen empathetically to those with whom you are interacting. It does wonders. Instead of using profiling to understand people, why not try this method of empathetic listening which works without fail?”

Lulu fluttered his wings, perched on my shoulder, and lightly bit my ear.

PS: Feature photo: Courtesy Wikipedia

Vivek S Patwardhan

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” / Read more Lulu blogs in my book ‘The Lulu Duologues’