Out of Sorts?

One way to understand the capabilities of any assessment instrument is to determine if it sorts or if it measures. Sorting begins by proposing a model that separates the population into types or styles of behavior. This is a simple concept that always appears to be fairly true. It is like slicing a pizza. If you think about a pizza, there is not a wrong way to slice a pizza. Triangles or rectangles…4 pieces, 6 pieces  or 16 pieces, it doesn’t matter how you slice it. There is not a “wrong” way to sort the population if you use factors that apply to everyone.

Hippocrates did just that about 2400 years ago
when he proposed a 4-part model that is the basis of all DISC-type assessments.
He termed the four types Choleric, Melancholic, Sanguine and Phlegmatic.
As time went by, his classification remained, but clever marketing
people chose better terminology: Dominant, Influencing, Steady, and Compliant;
Driver, Expressive, Amiable and Analytical, or simply Blue, Red, Green and Yellow.

This model was not based on some psychological truth or current theory.
It was merely an early attempt to explain why people behaved differently.
At approximately the same time, the best thinkers believed that all matter
was composed of fire, air, earth and water. As of today, 118 elements
have been identified, and none are fire, air, earth or water.
Similarly, psychological theory has moved well beyond Hippocrates’ early thoughts.

There have been many other models that also sorted
individuals into different behavioral types. In the 1940’s, Carl Jung
divided the population into 16 types. He thought it made for an interesting parlor game.
That “parlor game” lives on seventy years later in multiple versions of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.



In the 1950’s, the Eniagram appeared with a 9-part model.

Also from the 1950’s, Predictive Index bases a series of reports on what is essentially a 4-part model.

Gallup’s StrengthsFinder is a contemporary example, using a 34-part model.

Birkman uses a model with 4 colors to discuss different aspects of behavior.

Hermann Brain Dominance Indicator offers a 4-part model for understanding decision-making.

Emotional Intelligence offers a 4-part model for understanding how emotions impact behavior.


The issue is not that these models are wrong. As was pointed out, there is not a “wrong” way to slice the pizza. The catch is that too often, the information that is based on the models is just “right” enough to be dangerously wrong.

  • People are far more complex than most models would have you believe. While the reports of these assessments are helpful, they do not tell the whole story. The original cell phones made phone calls but did nothing like today’s smart phone do. Psychometric technology is that much farther along than the early models.
  • Being sorted into one section of a model is not the same as being measured. Buying shirts or blouses that are sized S, M, L and XL is not the same as buying shirts or blouses made from your personal measurements.
  • The methodologies for sorting you into the model are not always reliable. Approximately 40% of the participants in either DISC-type instruments or Myers-Briggs – type assessments will produce a significantly different score if the assessment is repeated.
  • In many cases, the models do not allow you to compare one person’s results to another. This is true of any DISC-type assessment using forced choice items or True-False items.
  • Too often the participants typecast each other into the oversimplified styles presented by the model. This prevents any real understanding of differences or recognition of personal strengths.