DISC And MBTI SUCK — Except For One Thing

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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)

Pete S

Pete S

I'm curious as to the assumption here that the value of tools like this is to predict behaviour - big assumption! For me, they are more useful as a means to understand type and differences, and as such can be very useful for opening up team conversations in a non judgemental way. The tool is just a mechanism through which to have an open conversation about behaviour, style, impact etc. I know many academics and "experts" scoff at the likes of MBTI, but seriously, I have struggled to get powerful conversations using so called "valid" tools like the big 5 - sure, they have their use, but if its about building culture and open conversations that build trust and lift team performance, tools like MBTI and DiSC definitely have a place....

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Alex Papworth

Alex Papworth

Coming at this from a different perspective, how about finding out what motivates an individual and allowing them to find opportunities to use their innate nature.

This would seem more in the spirit of Corporate Rebels!

This is why I prefer using this tool. Feel free to contact Jose Leal on LinkedIn if you have any questions that aren't answered here.

Or me although I wasn't involved in founding this group, I am just a fan!


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Alia Aurami

Alia Aurami

Mis-construing something is not the best way to critique it, for optimal use of it.
I don't know about DISC but I do know about the Spiral Dynamics Integral "color" framework of worldviews, and it's often mis-construed as about people. It's actually about consciousness, and each person is actually a complex mixture of worldviews/"colors."
Humans are pattern-seeking creatures, so the problem is not the patterns. The problem is the ways people over-simplify and over-generalize and misunderstand the patterns. I view your article as tending to over-simplify and to mis-construe, along with its many valid cautions against doing those very things!

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Sounds rebellion to me ;-)
And fully agree with Kathrin "They serve as vehicles to speak about our differences. At the end, reality is a construct." Nice! So true.

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Great article, and thank you for introducing two alternative tools I wasn't aware of.

I don't have a deep psychological understanding or background to be able to add too much to this conversation, but I do use MBTI (and encourage others in the team to as well).

The most beneficial part (for me) is the identification of blind spots. I've found this super useful to understand what I'm neglecting, and then actively work on ways to improve. Of course, not everything is wholly accurate, but others have been able to identify these blind spots in my personality as well, and noticed the personal development over the years to address these areas.

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Thank you for the thought provoking article.
I agree that both tests are not useful for future predictions of a person - neither for recruiting nor internal development.
But I know both tools and I have offered DISC to many teams to help them understand each other better, value difference and pay better attention to other people needs. I never sold as the absolute and final truth.
And for that purpose, teams loved that they now had a tool that in fact helped them.
Sure, it’s probably not scientific enough , but it’s good enough and if it serves the purpose of supporting people to be kind to each other and work better as a team, why condemn it so much ?
That’s one step too far for a rebel !

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Glenn Holster

Glenn Holster

I don't agree with you on this one Lennard. And that is quit interesting from someone who is not using both methodes. Okay, I'm a huge fan of Insights Discovery, which is similar in some kind of ways. And I like you mention HEXACO, I would love to chat in real life (online is fine as well) about your perspective of how the measure integrity. Isn't it quit integer if you say you aren't honest all the time?

Anyway, the subject of your article got my attention, I would love to have a chat about it. Because I do have a different opinion on your blog.

Enjoy your weekend!

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I landed near the middle of the DISC chart, but below the line :-(
I created a flipped version to show I'm actually above the line :-)
I then made it into a cone to show that being in the middle means I'm at the top of the pyramid and best able to relate to everyone %–]

Those who gave me the test were not amused

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MBTI, DISC, SDI, etc. are not meant to predict success or how much a person fits into a profile / role. You can be or not be successful at negotiating, leading, selling, working with others, etc. with any style.
The value of all these tools is, as many already said above, awareness, development, developing team effectiveness, relating better with your boss / reports, etc.

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Great clickbait, poor article. I’d expect better from Corporate Rebels.

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