Myers-Briggs, phase two: 4 Groups

So a while back I started talking about M-B and how it works.

Phase two is taking the spread of 16 types (2 x 2 x 2 x 2 options works out to 16 distinct combinations) and dividing them into subgroups in order to make generalizations and shortcuts.

Yes, this might be called creating stereotypes, but I prefer to think of them as jumping-off places.  A common language (again) that allows for a starting point from which to look at individual variation.

Convention in M-B discussions does this dividing primarily by combining two letters and describing the characteristics common to types sharing that pair of traits:

  • SJ
  • SP
  • NF
  • NT

These groups conform roughly (depending on whom you read) to the series of divisions throughout history where prominent thinkers also divided humanity into four groups in order to make generalizations.

The most common (or popular?) one when I was in school was an indirect descendant of the “humors” theory using the original Greek terms Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholic, and Phlegmatic.  Thankfully with a broader application and a more complex set of assumptions than personality being caused by an “excess of certain fluids in the body.” (Which was the original explanation.)

The four M-B groups have also been named by various writers and researchers

  • Stabilizers (aka Guardians or SJs)
  • Innovators (aka Artisans or SPs)
  • Catalysts (aka Idealists or NFs)
  • Theorists (aka Rationals or NTs)

I expect you had some kind of reaction to one or more of those labels.

After all, words are essentially value-judgements, and even if you “typed” yourself based on the previous post and felt reasonably comfortable with its accuracy, once one sees the category labels there can at times be a subtle shift– or at least the desire to shift– toward a name or type you perceive as having more value.

Granted this is not always the case. Isabel Meyers, the main researcher behind the theory, suggested that many people are “type patriotic,” automatically seeing their own type as best.  She felt this was right and correct, as we each are living those “bests,” but that it shouldn’t blind us to the value of other types.

Stabilizers (SJs) have a very pronounced “J” pattern (in all its organizational glory), due to its combination with the physical-world centered, detail-oriented S in their type.  They tend to be those who get things done, or get anxious when things don’t. Stabilizers have a strong sense of duty motivating them in much of what they do; they derive a good deal of their personal satisfaction from knowing they’ve done the right thing.

They’re the ones I think of when I read this poem:

To Be of Use
Marge Piercy

The people I love best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is as common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museum
but you know they were meant to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.


The Innovators (SPs) are the figure-it-out-for-myself types.

I like to say “Experience is the best teacher, if you can learn second-hand, the tuition’s cheaper.”

That is, I’ll learn from anybody’s experience, primarily to avoid making mistakes that have already been made.

And it really is something I don’t understand that there are people who aren’t interested in such caution.

“I’d rather pay tuition,” one mom my age told me after I inserted my line into the conversation. I was speechless.  What could I say?  She’s not the first person I’ve known that really meant it.

The positive things people see when they look at Innovators are flexibility and creative energy.  Innovators are frequently very good at what they do, and involved in projects where improvising is part of the structure and fabric of the task.

In contrast to the Stabilizers, Innovators don’t need to have everything “nailed down” to do their most effective work.  Therefore, considering the general nature of reality, having a population of Innovators roughly equal to that of Stabilizers is a good thing.

According to my friend who’s done some reading on the subject, marriages pairing a Stabilizer and an Innovator are common.  But as can be imagined there are built-in conflicts the couple will have to learn to navigate. (I’ll talk more about type-chemistry next time I take up the topic.)


The Catalysts fill the quadrant taken up by those who pay most attention to information derived from non-empirical sources, and make decisions based on a values-hierarchy.  This is my quadrant, and I was one of those who saw a label (in my case it was Idealist) and ran. Wanted to reject the type, because for me that word meant “ungrounded” and (because I have J-preferences) I found that insulting.

The mis-match of language is part of what led me to research further, trying to understand how something could be both so accurate and somehow miss the point.

Catalysts, like the name implies, tend to make things happen.  They are the spark or the impetus that motivates and/or inspires others to action, frequently putting words and ideas together with human beings in a way the majority hadn’t taken to heart before (Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are two famous examples of this application of type).


Theorists are equally innovative but often get more credit for being “smart” or the brains of an outfit because their focus on impersonal decision-making (the T, rather than the F) is generally perceived as making them more reliable.

This is true of all the T-types.  Not just NTs.

Theorists, like the Catalysts, tend to look more at the world at is could be, than as it is.  Only, with their non-relational preference in action, they tend to focus on innovations in systems or ideas rather than social causes or individual lives.

~   ~

iNtuitive types make up 26-34% of the population (according to this chart), with Stabilizers and Innovators skewed just a bit off 50/50 (in favor of the Judgers).

All of these are necessary types, a sort of checks and balances system where one type will clearly see (and in well-functioning group be able to compensate for) another’s blind spots.

A Stabilizer will keep things moving where they need to.  Depending on their judging orientation (T or F) this can be making things happen or creating security. Sometimes both. These are the people genuinely happy to die in service, but they can become resentful of the other types when they do not share this duty-unto-death conviction.

Innovators can (accurately) be accused of being reckless and self-centered, but they, by being among the most adaptable of the types, can also be the most forgiving and willing to roll with relational challenges that my break another type.

Catalysts can be flaky and ungrounded, swayed by the opinion of the moment or the need directly in front of them (to the exclusion of good sense), but as in the cases alluded to above, the grounding of conviction can result both in personal growth and social good.

Theorists, sometimes derided as cold (or as limiting themselves to logic and avoiding the real world), are a wonderful source of grounding, even as they explore new options.  By starting off with a set of reinforced assumptions they are rooted enough to dig deep and look far with confidence, taking risks that don’t feel like risks to them because of the surety of their stance.

~ ~ ~

Being more attached to your type (or the type of your “ideal human”) are both natural responses.

I believe it is important though, both to look for admirable people in each quadrant and to accept your starting place, even as you work to shore up weak areas.

God made each of us with the personality “core” we have, and he will “complete the work he started in us,” to conform us to the image of Christ.

And what I love is how the fullness of Christ is so full that we won’t have to look like everyone else around us to do that.

3 thoughts on “Myers-Briggs, phase two: 4 Groups

  1. Amy you’ve done a great job explaining the different types. And I couldn’t agree more about how God transforms us. The mature NT & the immature NT (SP, SJ, NF) look differently, as they should.

  2. […] So first we looked at the terminology for M-B observations, then after ending up with 16 combinations we looked at how they subgroup into four distinct quadrants. […]

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