DISC And MBTI SUCK — Except For One Thing

Lennardtoma
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- 5 min read

DISC and MBTI are the two most popular personality tools around, even though neither make any sense at all. Rebels, I hope you're not using them. And if you are, why?

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Both have staked a place helping organizations around the world select new hires, help teams to grow together, and allow people to understand each other better. Both are multi-million-dollar industries, with countless workshops and seminars, where people are trained to educate others in this baloney.

Why do they suck?

The scientific community is crystal clear about DISC and MBTI: they predict nothing.

What you want from a personality test (or similar) is a result that tells you about how a person will likely behave in the future. Will he or she fit into your organization, or the job?

Both DISC and MBTI can’t make significant predictions about behavior. Like flipping a coin, or horoscopes, they are occasionally right. But that's more luck than a firm prediction.

Also notable is that the test scores change when done multiple times. A large number of people who do the MBTI-test get totally different results after an interval of 5 weeks That shouldn't happen.

Above all, both are too simplistic. Personality is more diverse and complex than a set of colors (blue, red, yellow, green), or dichotomies (completely extravert or completely introvert).

Why are they still being used, then?

There are many reasons:

  • They are simple and easy to use

DISC and MBTI are easily understood. They are both label-makers. And if we don't have to think hard when using them, that's a benefit. It makes them applicable and translatable to those that need/want to use them.

  • Confirmation Bias

But they are actually pimped-up horoscopes. You can always recognize yourself or another person when using them. It's easy to believe they work. But, like a horoscope, we tend to focus on the parts that fit and align, and ignore those that don't. Everybody can plainly see (and tell) that Fitzgerald the Financier (always hardheaded and busy with numbers) is clearly Blue. And we shouldn't expect Fitzgerald to think about how to treat people in the workplace with love and care. But then we forget Fitzgerald is actually very humane. Take, for example, his volunteer work in a retirement home. With the Blue color, we dangerously oversimplify the much more complex Fitzgerald.

  • The marketing is phenomenal

In stark contrast to real, scientifically validated personality-theories and tests, MBTI and DISC are fed by marketing and business empires that push them brilliantly into view. And the color scheme fits our everyday vocabulary. In the past scientific papers were fabricated to prove their validity. They have been debunked and disproven since. But we still keep believing in them.

  • It feels right

Both tools balance out the positive and the negative in every personality outcome. The negatives make them seem credible (because if everything is positive in a set of personality outcomes, it's bogus). And people feel good about themselves, no matter the outcome. It feels fair when compared to the outcomes of colleagues: they too have the same balance of positives and negatives. True personality doesn't enjoy that luxury. But, it’s not what people want to hear.

What's the one thing that's good about them?

As far as I'm concerned, the one good thing about DISC and MBTI is that they foster interest in, and awareness of, differences between people. And that is a great thing.

But you can do the same thing with theories and constructs that are actually proven, predict behavior, and don't put people in stifling boxes.

DISC and MBTI are like low-resolution photographs. They have lots of pixels and very simplistic resolutions. You haven't a clue what you're looking at when looking at the photograph. But the first photo looks clearly different to the second. That's about it.

What are the alternatives?

The Big Five and HEXACO are both scientifically solid constructs that are great in measuring personality and predicting behavior. The tests are harder to fake (it’s easy with MBTI and DISC), and they both have tons of scientific literature supporting them, which can point out how people will probably vote in the next elections, how susceptible someone is to stress, burnout or some kind of mental disorder. And they predict how someone will likely perform at work. A great number of other implications and findings say something about the behavior of people with a certain set of personality characteristics.

Both the Big Five and HEXACO work with dimensions, which means people can average out right in the middle of Extraversion and Introversion for instance: an Ambivert. Or they can tell that certain people lean towards extraversion, but that at lots of times they will exhibit introverted behavior. This makes for a much higher resolution picture of someone. Goodbye boxes and labels.

Therefore... It's time for HR, recruiters, trainers and others to abandon DISC and MBTI and start using real personality constructs, tests and theories. In the current age of inclusivity and diversity, and avoiding labels, we can't use fake tools anymore.

Fun fact:

Cambridge Analytica used the Big Five (and not DISC or MBTI) to predict the behavior of people so that they could target them better with ads and messaging on Facebook. The aim was that people would be persuaded to believe certain political campaigns, like Brexit. They were quite successful, and probably would not have been if they’d used the other two.


This is a guest post from Lennard Toma, founder of KeytoeY a company to help other companies change into organizations where people enjoy their work. For more information on Lennard and the company, check out his rebel page.

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Replies (26)

Dominiek Pollet

Dominiek Pollet

For as far as I know, the assumption that those tests can predict the future behavior of someone is false. I can only speak for MBTI and the way I understood and experienced it, is that the goal is to get to know your personality like it would be with the least possible amount of influences on it, like in a kind of 'desert island' environment.
So it's about knowing yourself in the purest way. This delivers vital information about yourself, your ideal environment and the ideal way of interacting with you (e.g. some people - natively - need a lot of guidance and/or instructions before successfully doing a task, other needs only a rough description and hate to be overloaded with instructions).
Now using this information to predict someone's future behavior is more than one bridge too far for me. Besides, why should HR want to predict a future behavior? I suppose to recruit only the persons with the same behavior? Then you get a very unbalanced set of personalities in your organisation, which is not good for its functioning (e.g. like in banking they tend to prefer the 'ant' personalities, very easy following people but at the same time very opposite of change). Instead, HR should understand better the purpose of MBTI and use it to give input on how to steer a variety of personalities that complement each other. Organisations need all types of personalities.

| | 10 | Flag
David

David

I am delighted at reading someone who also shares my view on these products.
L & D professionals who use these products as part of leadership development etc are guilty of being ignorant of modern psychology & blind to the evidence. They are used as they are easy & of course makes no difference to performance - where is the evidence for this if it exists? Of course any evidence that is tried to be gathered will likely use the Kirkpatrick evaluation model (or I should say Katzell-Kirkpatrick to give the originator his reference). This evaluation model is out of date & does not take into account assisted transfer nor culture of organisation where learning takes place, nor social learning. In short it’s use is limited to whether to evaluate if the tea was acceptably warm during the break.

| | 1 | Flag
Steen Ruby

Steen Ruby

Its ok you dont like my post, but dont call it a spam bot

| | 1 | Flag
Eric Steffen

Eric Steffen

Fully agree from a psych standpoint! But...
- We have to be aware that HR/L&D is usually not trained psychologists who are used to work with psychometric tools and their wording etc. but people that come from admin/business where this kind of tests is like alchemy and BIG5 is just more complicated to explain, work with
- DISC/MBTI are easy to fill in, explain and work with, especially if you work in a group setting where you want to get people talking. Its the same with horoscopes; they make sense to everyone and are never written in negative tone so the are "supportive" and not "demotivating"

... so the big question here is; why we (psychologists) cant come up with an easier to work with model/test for the workplace, that has an easy dynamic and works in different work settings AND is scientifically proof?

| | 4 | Flag
Aleksandra

Aleksandra

There are a few DISC varieties, for example DISC D3 is a psychometric assesment, same as Big Five. MBTI is not. Same as free DISC tests available online for free - not psychometric tools. I guess it depends what type of DISC do you use and for what purpose.

| | 1 | Flag
Steen Ruby

Steen Ruby

MBTI is NOT a test. Its a developmental tool. Indicating your preferences, not your actions. And the indication works together with a conversation with a certified consultant. hereafter you hopefully knows more of your preferences. And besides the preferences you need to look at your behavior, skills, experiences etc, which is not covered by the MBTI indicator.

| | 9 | Flag
Joris

Joris

I'm not sure if these tests are meant to predict anything, I do believe it is one of many ways for introspection and get a better understanding of yourself and your environment within the context of these tools (that holds for any tool of course, also Big Five and HEXACO!). It is just a set of glasses to look at things. If I put on purple glasses, to world will look purple. Same as with these tests, it would be better to not only explain what the benefit of these tools are but also the limitations. I absolutely agree these tools should not be used in any selection procedure.

| | 2 | Flag
Kathrin

Kathrin

Hi, I'm a psychologist and coach. I agree, neither the MBTI nor DISC should be used as selection tools.
They do have merit as development tools. They serve well as a vehicle to speak about our differences. At the end, reality is a construct. It doesn't matter if they will predict my behaviour – if you and I can make meaning out of a discussion about me being an ENFP and you being an ISTJ, as far as I am concerned: It has served it's purpose. They make a great entry point for people who have never before attempted to gain clarity or speak about 'who they are'.
If used as a basis for conversation or reflexion, they work. Good enough for me!

| | 17 | Flag
Eva

Eva

Having participated a DISC training recently within my organisation, this article expresses exactly what I feel and think about it: Thank you for it!
Could you please name the scientific studies you refer to? I'd be interested in reading them

| | 1 | Flag
Maja

Maja

What about REISS motivational profile, does anyone has any experience around that one?

| | 1 | Flag
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