The Problems with Insights Discovery Personality Assessments

I spent the last Thursday and Friday on a division-wide personality assessment workshop run by Insights Discovery.

descriptive

The user completes 25 rounds of 4 multiple choice questions and the results are then compiled into a personal profile for the workshop. The assessment categorises different aspects of your personality into 4 colours, described above.

There are 72 types available based on the different possible colour mixes. The assessment is based on Jungian archetypes and is quite similar to the Myers-Briggs type indicators, which is largely pseudoscience. Psychologists don’t really use it, but businesses love it.

72

The participants were only given their personality profiles and shown their dominant colour “energies” at the end of the first day. Day 1 involved a lot of activities aimed at familiarising everyone with the different colour categories and given several opportunities to guess which colour was most dominant for them.

Activity example:

Each corner of the room had a table with cards on it for the different colours. The cards had words that were descriptive to the different colours. A blue card would say “accuracy”, a red card would say “Likes to be in the thick of the action”, a yellow card would say “bouyant”, and a green card would say “makes new friendships easily”.

Each participant had to pick three cards from each colour corner and give the ones which they felt were least descriptive of them to other participants. I ended up with blue cards in two similar activities but turned out to be red dominant with blue a close second. The two pics below are from my personal profile.

pie

graphs

The Warnings

In the 100+ slides we went through over the two days there was exactly 1 that dealt with the dangers of categorising people into individual colour boxes and over-generalising the groups. Language like “red are so” and “yellow are always” was discouraged. Basically, they were advising against this becoming another form of discrimination and drumming it into our heads that people are mixes of colours, not individual colours.

The Language Use

The language use quickly switched to precisely what they were advising against, though. The facilitator used the incorrect phrasing as well as the participants.

One of the managers on the course jokingly said, “I think there’s a yellow in our team. We need to get rid of her”, and a green member of another team overheard and was deeply offended. In fact, the softer colours (green and yellow) were consistently getting the short end of the stick the whole way through the two day workshop.

The departments attending were expecting their members to be predominantly blue and red, so the greens and yellows were seen as outliers, oddballs, quirky, and less desirable. The “less desirable” bit was never explicitly articulated but it was heavily, heavily implied by all of the participants.

Despite the emphasis in the beginning on people being mixes of colours, all of the activities seemed designed to generalise the individual colours. We were broken up into our dominant colour groups and had to discuss topics like “how to identify a green person by their verbal cues, environment, and body language”. One guy was consistently mean about yellow while in the same breath saying his daughter was probably yellow.

There was a lot of grouping happening. “Oh, you’re green like HR” and “the head of [department] is also red”.

During discussions about how to engage with the different colours there were bizarrely superficial descriptions tossed around. It was actually implied that yellow people (*cringe*) are too fun-loving to be able to read through a detailed, important, serious work email. How insulting. During the same discussion I had to say that, as the only red dominant person in the workshop, red people (Christ) are more than just the colour and would still feel hurt if they received an abrasive email or be concerned that someone was angry at them if the tone was too terse or formal.

While brainstorming the verbal cues to identify a green person (ugh) I said they might start a sentence with “I feel” or “we can”, which elicited a groan from one of the blue-dominant participants. I tried a feeble defense saying that it’s not always a bad thing to start sentences that way (obviously), to which guy A jokingly replied, “har har I’ll have to disagree!”

I found myself playing into the different colours I was told were dominant. During an exercise to design a team building exercise I was in the blue team and I helped put together a detailed what/where/when/where/how bullet-point list with costs, locations etc. even though my first instinct was just to scribble “paintball” and be done with it.

Talks spiraled into what type of car a colour would drive, what type of clothes they’d wear, and their level of organisation.

Participants who had similar profiles to those in management positions were plumped up and bolstered with approving pats on the back. “Ah, we’re looking at the next head of [department]!” However, the negative was then inferred by participants. If their profile is not like a senior manager’s profile then perhaps that means they could never be in her position.

Additionally, there was a lot of talk about an authentic self and staying true to your persona, but then mention would be made about improving around that and possibly changing due to drastic life events, which was enough of an un-explained contradiction to make me feel slightly uncomfortable.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the scientific accuracy of the assessment because that could be a full post on its own and has also already been done by people far more qualified than I. I do just want to note that the way the Less Conscious graph (look on the right of the last image above) is calculated irked me. This graph looks at the inverse of your answers. For example, the opposite of red is green so if you are indicating high red in your responses then the remaining value to the top of the graph is populated with green. 97% red therefore = 3% green. After asking the facilitator for clarification twice I understand how the graph is generated but I don’t follow how it can be said to depict your Less Conscious behaviour. Mapping inverse colours seems to be less “figuring out your Less Conscious behaviour” and more “just a thing they are doing”.

It’s also worth noting that people tended to be “shocked” or “surprised” with other people’s assessments, revealed with comments like, “How can she be red when she’s so ditsy?” and “She so authoritarian I’m surprised at how blue she is.” The data collection method should be remembered here. The quiz was filled out by each individual privately, so if I, for example, think I like to get things done quickly and don’t like socialising, then the output will show high red and low green regardless of what the reality is.

Summary

The resulting categorisations are accurate enough. I’d give mine about an 80% accuracy rating in a strict work context and the detailed write-ups about a 60%. However, the application is problematic. It’s easier to workshop 4 colours rather than various colour mixes.

The survey that spits out the resulting profile would be mood and situational dependent and is unable to know what we are already aware of, listing our weaknesses as “blind spots”. Less self-reflective people may be more easily influenced by the lengthy write-ups.

The facilitator said that when a person undergoes notable life-changes or if a few years have passed they can redo the test. They may find that they can shift 45° in either direction, which removes any replicability requirement for scientific measure.

The workshop does encourage thought about other types and tries to stretch this into empathy and compassion, but that seems to stop with the individuals participating. If you’re a bit of an ass then you’re going to be like the “har har green people amirite” guy.

It feels like these exercises are just corporates attempting to iron the kinks out of their employees. “Oh, you’re too blue, you need to socialise more. Green, you need to ramp up your red energy and challenge more. Wait, not that much.” Just like annual performance reviews it creates a space to nit-pick minor personality flaws and differences rather than encouraging genuine tolerance, which, despite being the intended goal, seems to be missed 9 times out of 10.

7 thoughts on “The Problems with Insights Discovery Personality Assessments

  1. A well written piece, even if it leaves me saddened at the unimaginative corporate world. While their intention is probably good, the execution is predictable and mostly unlikely to yield any true “insights”. Your last paragraph succinctly sums up what most big corporates are probably after: A corporate cultural homogenization and rounding off of people to models that can be understood, measured, and managed in “operationalized” ways.

  2. Hi.
    I stumbled across your piece and expected to disagree with it, but i in fact agree with much of it!
    Cards on the table…i am a Leadership consultant who uses Insights, and i find it hugely useful if used properly. Pigeon holing people and allowing loose and discriminatory language is the sign of poor facilitation and actually a fundamental misunderstanding of what it Insights is best used for…establishing a base and lexicon to evaluate something which is notoriously hard to calibrate in an engaging way…behaviour.
    Thinking directionally, in any work situation, there will be more and less appropriate/effective colour behaviours…e.g. Budget planning might major in B/R, Marketing Brain storm might major in Y, the CEO liaising with a union leader might major in G (it is a vital Leadership colour !!!!) etc. All four colours are equally valid, and everyone is a mix of all of them. It just means that some people will find it more uncomfortable using an appropriate colour behaviour (which could be any of them…depending on situation) than others…
    Leadership and emotional intelligence coaching and development means that the self awareness growth should allow people to spot the appropriate behaviour for a situation, and apply it well (put my head where it hurts if it is not a preferred behaviour…or ensure i don’t overdo it if it is a strong preference). It should also mean that leaders spot the preferences in others and coach and deploy effectively and NOT take a sheep dip or “In my image” approach!!!
    No matter if you prefer left or right hand, we all change gear with left hand in UK…and it feels OK because we have adjusted to it. Doesn’t override the preference though… Facilitators who truly get-it will take tis approach to using Insights to build more effecive delivery, not homogenise or worse still, give licence to bad behaviour…

    This is the first time i have ever replied to a random blog… thanks… you got me thinking !!

  3. That sounds like a somewhat terrible experience. But I think that had more to do with your corporate culture than the test itself. I had this at my company and there was no negativity about any of the colors and it was more like “Wow, we have a lot of blue, it’d be nice to get more color variety.” And “When does it make sense to dial up different color energies”. Even now, my dominant energy is Green, but I work closely with those that are my opposite to help me become more well rounded. And I know others do as well. I wish more people in general would take that perspective into working with people, regardless of their ‘dominant color’ or communication styles.

    1. I agree with your comment! In my company, we have co-workers from all colours and we were so glad that we are such a dynamic bunch. We agreed each colour have qualities which will help each other do better.

  4. I really recognize everything in your as well. The sessions start with mentioning there is no right or wrong and all colors are equally important and that the best teams have all colours represented. And as soon as it has been established the heads of the departments are red or blue every next person in the same colour is cheered on and welcomed. Just recently I did the Insight assessment yet again. Again a different outcome. I have been a department manager for many and I also have been a subject matter expert without direct reports for many years. And depending on the role, the company and my interest at the time (because indeed you fill things in in solitute with a different view on yourself and the world at a given moment) the outcome has been different. BUT no matter what the outcome is I will not share with others anymore. There is enough discrimination in corporate companies as it is.
    Good article! I noticed I was nodding a lot whilst reading!

  5. I also expected to disagree before I read this article, but surprisingly, quiet accurate description. When I took this test and workshop, it was interesting in the beginning. But as the article describes, it starts to categorize people and widen the gap. Luckily, people that I worked with took it positively. Not much problems arose, but this article definitely brings up many good points to be considered. Definitely in these times where identity politics is heavily emphasized.

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