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.

18 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.

    1. Jon! you are spot on. “pointless.” It just randomly picks up some of our personality traits but it does not define us. We are color-coding people, does anyone find this strange? I do. My parents and grandparents didn’t need a “system of color” to work with people. Let’s have real workshops and identify real problems and work the problems out. Some people will never get along. What happened to good old accountability, professionalism and common courtesy. The instructor encouraged us to address co-workers and administrators by color.” Example: “Executive director your “red” is really showing right now. Would you think about how this makes “greens” feel?” If I say such foolishness to the executive, it would not be in my best interest. This “stuff” is sold and bought in the human service field. They like this kind of stuff and think it works when it clearly doesn’t. By the end of our training. it looked like the instructor was doubting herself. But it is a way to make money. This is America the land of opportunity and total garbage is bought.

  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.

  6. I notice that those commenting are indeed predominantly red/blue. The corporate world leans towards those colours too. And those colours tend to poo-poo the profiling because, to them, it is pseudo-science, even though in 85-90% of cases, their responses are recorded exactly as above. The fact is they hate looking in on themselves. They are task orientated and do not evaluate where and when they are using their predominant trait nor, indeed, how that behaviour is seen by others. It is also true that yellows, for example, tend towards creative jobs: strong yellows, in my years of experience, are very rarely found in Councils or finance/accountancy/research jobs because their minds do not work so well with maths. Their mind functions to create harmony and connections. However, they do understand meta-physics well because they are visionary. Greens are also more empathetic in the behavioural scale, relying on strong intuition. Naturally we all have these “colours” within the psyche, but what is highly noticeable is that if you have a low green (as the OP commented) and a high red, you are always likely to draw green people and situations to balance you out. That might mean dealing with emotional scenes, delay, supporting people, explaining things over and over again until responsibility is learnt. From this point of view, the Insights profiling (amongst many who use a similar system) is very useful indeed. It appears the corporate grouping had already set out to ridicule the process, which often happens, or else it was badly facilitated by the trainer.

  7. My workplace is having one of these things in a couple of weeks. It’s mandatory. I have a huge problem with pseudoscientific personality tests… let alone defining a person as a color.

    Basically googling around to see if anyone has any insight (hah!) about this whole procedure.

    I thought about calling in sick or making sure there’s an emergency only I can deal with. But you know what? They want to know what personality type I am, and I’m the kind that will make a statement about participating in bullshit groupthink activities.

  8. I previously worked at a company that was heavily into this “Insights journey.” It was marketed as a way for employees to better understand each other better, and improve collaboration and communication. In practice it was more of a way of identifying the employees that were most likely to be compliant. After almost three years, it became apparent to me that employees that were categorized as “red” or “blue” (with the exception of executive level employees) were the ones most likely to be laid-off, have their positions eliminated, or simply terminated while those categorized as “green” were likely to be retained as long-term employees. Company’s coordinator of this program noted that company also had an unusually high percentage of employees that fell into the personality types that moved most easily between the “colours.” Personality types that, IMHO, seemed most similar to psychopathic tendencies. In another unrelated seminar, we as adults, most with children or grandchildren, were asked to form groups based on our favourite type of music no labels were given by the facilitator, rather than various groups in general music preferences: adult contemporary, country, rock, r&b, jazz, etc. I was absolutely shocked that just a few individual outliers readily identified with one of the previous. Two groups formed: “We like EVERYTHING,” and “We like everything, but country.” More specific music preferences had one or two people in each group that couldn’t conceive of “liking everything.” Totally astonishing to me that educated contributing adults would have no preferences on something as relatively innocuous, but personal, as music It seemed to me that the vast majourity of my co-workers were more interested in fitting in than having any sort of personal identity.

  9. We did this test a couple of weeks ago. Whilst some of the report produced was correct, it was also contained wild inaccuracies. The report to me seemed like a “medium” just answering broad and general replies. Categorising people and pigeonholing them based on a few responses seems pretty suspect to me. Surely being adaptable to others and responsive to their needs is a better idea.

  10. Interesting. I attended the training to deliver Insights sessions and found the underlying structures and model over-engineered to the point where it quickly became a maths exercise and made worse that in order to become certified you needed to use a load of very specific language and their jargon. Add the annoyingly evangelical preachiness of their representatives to near-cult-like standard and I found it to be over complicated, impractical and manipulative.

  11. I just re-took my profile, having done the first in 2014. I end up as blue/yellow (a “creative type”), and found this searching for others in this bucket. The conscious/sub-conscious is the part I couldn’t wrap my head around. Mine end up completely flip flopped, so blue/yellow conscious and red/green sub-conscious. The instructor stated that having large deltas implies a sort of shift in your public/work persona vs. your more natural, relaxed state. She saw mine and said “Wow, you’ve got some stuff going on there.”

    She asked what I thought when I saw the graph and I said “I figured it was just a glitch in your algorithm that couldn’t figure out what to do.” I read your bit that they’re simply calculated by the remainder from your conscious colors, which means it’s *deterministic* that a yellow/blue will have red/green sub-conscious! I had the nearly identical results in 2014, so I’ve answered consistently both times. They should develop a way to explain this either by writing it off as a glitchy algorithm, or at least by not implying that participants have deep-rooted psychological issues!

  12. I agree with your view of the Insights Discovery course. The course unfortunately gives the impression that people’s personalities are fixed. While the report is interesting (mine seemed to accurately describe my default), it does not leave a lot of room for people behaving outside the four color boxes. I have taken many other courses with greater impact on my life that did not put me in boxes that describe my personality. In fact, those courses taught me that I can create who I am at any given moment.

  13. This article is spot on. Insight Discovery “boxes” people into comical categories. I believe it’s a coding system for companies. It’s just another method of people conditioning. The instructor couldn’t get enough of “YELLOW/GREEN” because she was yellow. Her body language and comments about “blues” during this “training” was negative. When challenged on any of this absolute garbage coming out of her mouth, she became flustered and stumbled on words. I took the “training” with a grain of salt. We had very few “self-thinkers” in this group. It was observable to the “self-thinkers” that this is another “employee conditioning technique” and it worked almost too well. I refuse to see my colleagues as a system of colors. It’s just too ridiculous to even discuss. I pulled through this farce and discarded “my color mapping booklet” as soon as I walked out of the building. How did we get to this point? why is thinking for yourself not acceptable anymore? what’s happening to us!

Leave a Reply to Reformer Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s