DiSC History

Who invented DISC?

The DISC assessment is a ‘four-quadrant’ tool that an individual can use to learn about their natural and adapted behaviors and the behaviors of others. Many organizations, large and small, use this tool to help employees and staff develop better communication and self-awareness skills. Frequently, DISC is used to create a more unified culture within whole organizations. Many organizations also use it with a leadership development capacity.

Over the years, DISC has become increasingly popular, and we are often asked ‘who invented DISC?’ and why does your version of DiSC have a small ‘I’? We created this page to provide the rich history of DISC, and how a theory and the original DISC profile became the Everything DiSC Profile that we offer today.

1928 - The Emotions of Normal People and the Beginning of D.I.S.C.

DISC continues to be one of the most popular four quadrant behavioral and personality models.

The Everything DiSC Profile, DiSC Classic Profile, and other DISC assessments are based on the research of William Moulton Marston Ph.D. (1893-1947).

Who is William Moulton Marston?

Marston was influenced by his contemporaries such as Carl Jung and Sigmund Frued who were focused on diseases that affected people’s behaviors and caused them to be “abnormal”. In contrast, Marston sought to find theory to explain the behavior of “normal” or “healthy” people within a specific situation or environment.

Marston was a physiological psychologist, researcher and authored or co-authored five books. His work is published in the American Journal of Psychology, reference books including The Encyclopedia of Psychology, and The Encyclopedia Britannica.

However, in Marston’s 1928 “Emotions of Normal People” he introduced his theory. In this book, he classified four categories of human behavioral type, style or temperament and began the D. I. S. C. theory that has built the DiSC model we know today:

  • Dominance
  • Inducement (Influence)
  • Submission (Steadiness)
  • Compliance (Conscientious)

Marston created a model that integrated these four types of emotional expression into a two-dimensional, two-axis space.

While Marston saw that a person had a primary ‘style’, he viewed a person as a ‘color-wheel’ in that the colors of each style blended into each other, and a person’s behavior was made up of a little bit of every style.

It’s important to note that Marston did not develop an assessment. 

Because Marston himself had little interest in theoretical concepts of personality or temperament, he never created a psychological instrument to measure his model. The contemporary understanding of DiSC maintains some of the core principles advanced by Marston, but the current presentation of the model also incorporates many additions and changes that are informed by advances in psychological measurement and theory.

Fun fact; in addition to his work on DISC and understanding personality, Maston also created the lie detector test, and introduced “Wonder Woman” into the DC comic strip universe.

1940 - The Activity Vector Analysis (AVA)

The history of the DISC assessment and measurement begins in the 1940s with industrial psychologist, Walter V. Clarke.

Clarke built a test for personnel selection called the Activity Vector Analysis (AVA). While the name of this assessment sounds complex, it had a relatively simple goal. The AVA was designed as a ‘short personality measure’ and used as a hiring selection tool for various industries.

To create the assessment, Clarke identified a list of 81 ‘nonderogerogatory’ adjectives that are commonly used in describing others. He collected information on the adjectives using a checklist format, and asked participants to check the specific words that describe them. 

After collecting and analyzingthe data on this instrument, he discovered that the four factors produced from the data (aggressive, sociable, stable, and avoidant). If you think this sounded a lot like DiSC, we would agree.

Clarke concluded that the data could be best explained by Marston’s model of human behavior.

1950 - The Self Discription Assessment

In 1951, John Cleaver joined Walter Clarke Associates and over time developed his own assessment, which he called Self Discription. 

In 1956, Cleaver left Walter Clarke Associates to form J.P. Cleaver Co. Like Clarke, Cleaver intended to use his assessment as a way to select a person for a certain job based on their behavior.

Cleaver’s assessment began like the AVA as an adjective checklist, but it evolved into a 24, four-adjective, forced-choice ‘question’ instrument.  Studies of Self Discription produced two factors that closely approximated the underlying axes of Marston’s model, lending considerable empirical support not only to the structure of the model he proposed, but to Clarke’s earlier claim that a DISC-based instrument could be created.

1970 - The Personal Profile System (PPS) and the DiSC® Assessment

In the 1970s, John Geier, a faculty member in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Health Sciences, used Self Discription to create the original Personal Profile System® (PPS).

He formed a company called Performax (which eventually became Inscape Publishing and is now the Workplace Learning Solutions Group at Wiley).

PPS used the same 24 four-adjective ‘questions’ and items that appeared in the original Self Discription. Geier’s main contribution was not so much in the area of instrument development, but in furthering the understanding of the 15 basic patterns discovered by Clarke. Geier collected pattern descriptions through clinical interviews with hundreds of people. By extracting behavioral information from those interviews, he provided richer descriptions of these 15 patterns that had come to be known as the Classical Profile Patterns. If you use any of the DiSC Classic products, these classic profile patterns are still used today.

1994 - The Personal Profile System is Updated

A research effort was launched to improve the DiSC instrument that had basically remained unchanged since 1959. New items were added, non-functioning items were removed, and the overall reliability of the instrument increased.

The new PPS wasnamed the Personal Profile System 2800 Series (PPS 2800), referring to the new number of four-adjective questions that were now included on the assessment (28). First published in1994, this version of the PPS is still used today, although it has since been renamed DiSC Classic®.

2000 - Research into the Circumplex (Circle Graph) Representation of DiSC

In the early 2000s, researchers associated with Wiley’s Workplace Learning Solutions Group (called Inscape at the time) began experimenting with ways to represent DiSC® with a circumplex model. A person’s DiSC style was tested and represented using a dot within the DiSC map rather than a line graph.

The advantage of this representation was ease of interpretation and application. Researchers discovered that this circumplex approach to measuring and presenting DiSC shared substantial overlap with the Interpersonal Circumplex theory in academic psychological research.

For a brief period of time, a product called DiSC Indra was produced and sold. The Everything DiSC® series of reports was developed based on this product and the research that was used to create DiSC Indra.

2007 to Today - Everything DiSC®

2007 – Everything DiSC® Sales

The first Everything DiSC application to be launched was Everything DiSC Sales. This profile presented the participant’sDiSC style using the circumplex DiSC map. Unlike the PPS, thisprofile focused on helping the learner understand the relevanceof his or her DiSC style to a particular role within the organization. This report contains three broad sections:

• Understanding Your DiSC Sales Style
• Understanding Customer Buying Styles
• Adapting Your Sales Style to Your Customer’s Buying Style

2008 – Everything DiSC® Management

The second Everything DiSC application to be launched wasEverything DiSC Management. This profile is designed to helpmanagers understand their own DiSC styles as well as the styles of the people they manage. Further, it helps managers bridge the gaps when there are style differences. The report contains five broad sections:

  • Your DiSC Management Style
  • Directing and Delegating
  • Motivation
  • Developing Others
  • Working with Your Manager

2009 - Everything DiSC Workplace® and Everything DiSC® Comparison Report

The third Everything DiSC application to be launched was Everything DiSC Workplace®. This profile is designed for use by a wide range of participants, regardless of their role in the organization. The report contains three broad sections:

• Discover Your DiSC Style
• Understanding Other Styles
• Building More Effective Relationships

At the same time, Everything DiSC Comparison Reports were launched. These reports allowed for two people to compare themselves on not only their DiSC style, but also on a series of basic personality traits, such as careful vs. daring or skeptical vs. accepting.

2010 - Everything DiSC 363® for Leaders

Drawing on three years of research, the Everything DiSC 363® for Leaders profile was launched. This is a 360-degree assessment that uses the DiSC model as a backdrop. In the assessment, observers are asked to evaluate a leader on 24 behaviors, such as finding opportunities or showing diplomacy.

Unlike other 360 assessments, DiSC 363 utilizes a commenting system that provides selectable comments to ensure that the leader reserves formative feedback without being hurt in the process.

2011 - Everything DiSC Work of Leaders®

Based on extensive research, this report splits the work of leaders into three categories: Vision, Alignment, and Execution.

Using self-ratings of 18 different traits, participants are taught why some leadership behaviors come naturally to them and others require more deliberate effort. This profile doesn’t discern if a person could be a leader; rather, it explains how a person would be a leader.

The profile shows a person’s leadership abilities on a continuum so a participant is able to recognize their leadership capacity.

2012 - Adaptive Testing Implemented

Adaptive testing allows an assessment to change depending ona respondent’s previous answers. This is useful in cases wherethe results of a standard assessment are inconclusive. In these instances, the Everything DiSC assessment will ask the respondent additional questions to reduce ambiguity in their results.

Adaptive testing is the latest improvement to increase the accuracy of the Everything DiSC assessment and make the feedback more personalized and relevant for users. Research has shown that adaptive testing has increased the accuracy by 32% compared to the forced choice DiSC Classic assessment.

2017 - Everything DiSC® Productive Conflict

Rather than focus on a step-by-step process for conflict resolution, Everything DiSC Productive Conflict helps learners curb destructive behaviors so that conflict can become more productive, ultimately improving workplace results and relationships.

This report combines the power of DiSC with powerful imagery and content describing how workplaces can become destructive.