What is the DiSC model?

The DiSC model was based on research conducted by Dr. William Moulton Marston in 1928 while he was writing the book The Emotions of Normal People. Marston’s subsequent emotional and behavioral theories were inspired by the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.

Understanding the DiSC model

The DiSC model is a tool used to measure one’s personality and behavioral style.

The first self-assessment tool based on Marston’s research was developed in 1956 by industrial psychologist Walter Clarke.

The tool, which measured one’s natural (unconscious) and adjusted (conscious) behavioral style, ultimately morphed into the DiSC model itself.

The DiSC model is practical and simple to understand and implement. For this reason, it is a popular choice with employees who want to improve how they respond to difficult situations as well as rules and procedures.

The model also clarifies how individuals like to influence others and their preferred pace. 

The DiSC model’s official website claims that over 1 million people take the self-assessment each year to improve workplace productivity, teamwork, and communication.

The two basic behavioral drivers of the DiSC model

While not part of Marston’s initial research, it is widely accepted that two motivators drive individual behavior:

  1. Motor drive (pace drive) – motor drive is the pace at which individuals prefer to operate. Extraverted people tend to move fast, talk fast, decide fast, and may be impatient. Introverted people speak and move more slowly and employ a cautious and deliberate approach. They tend to think before speaking or acting.
  2. Compass drive (priority drive) – compass drive describes whether someone is task-oriented or people-oriented. Task-oriented individuals focus on data, logic, and projects, while people-oriented individuals are interested in experiences, relationships, interactions, and feelings.

Note that these motivators are not absolutes, with most individuals embodying both types of drivers to varying degrees.

The four components of the DiSC model

Marston distilled his work into four distinct personality styles which comprise the DiSC acronym.

The lowercase “i” is used to differentiate the official trademark held by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from other interpretations of the model.

With that said, the four personality styles are:

  1. Dominance (D) – confident, demanding, outspoken, and sometimes brutally honest. These individuals are results-oriented and holistic thinkers.
  2. Influence (i) – open, trusting, enthusiastic, and energetic. These individuals like to influence or persuade others.
  3. Steadiness (S) – cooperation, dependability, patience, sincerity, and loyalty. These individuals are cool, calm, and collected and do not like to be rushed.
  4. Conscientiousness (C) – quality, accuracy, competency, and expertise. These individuals are detail-oriented, fear being wrong, and enjoy their independence. 

No style is more desirable than the others and, like the two motivators we outlined above, individuals will exhibit a mix of all four styles in their lives.

Instead, the DiSC model clarifies one’s comfort zone – or the style they tend to gravitate toward the most. 

Based on this information, the individual can understand their tendencies or preferences and adjust their behavior to relate to others more effectively.

Key takeaways:

  • The DiSC model is a tool used to measure one’s personality and behavioral style. The first iteration of the model was released in 1956 and based on research conducted by William Moulton Marston 28 years earlier.
  • There are two main drivers of behavior. The first is motor drive, which describes the preferred pace at which one likes to operate. The second driver, compass drive, pertains to whether one focuses on logic and data or people, feelings, and relationships.
  • Marston distilled his work into four distinct personality styles which comprise the DiSC acronym. These include dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. No style is more desirable than the others and most will embody all four over their lives.

Key Highlights:

  • Origins of the DiSC Model: The DiSC model was developed based on research conducted by Dr. William Moulton Marston in 1928 while working on his book “The Emotions of Normal People.” Marston’s theories were influenced by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s work.
  • Purpose of the DiSC Model: The DiSC model is a tool used to assess personality and behavioral styles. It helps individuals understand themselves and their preferences, improving their responses to various situations, rules, and procedures.
  • Development and Evolution: The first self-assessment tool stemming from Marston’s research was created in 1956 by industrial psychologist Walter Clarke. This assessment measured natural and adjusted behavioral styles, leading to the development of the DiSC model.
  • Practicality and Popularity: The DiSC model is known for its practicality and ease of implementation. It helps individuals enhance workplace productivity, teamwork, and communication. Over a million people take the self-assessment each year.
  • Two Basic Behavioral Drivers:
    • Motor Drive (Pace Drive): Refers to the preferred operating pace. Extraverted individuals tend to be fast-paced and decisive, while introverted individuals are slower and deliberate.
    • Compass Drive (Priority Drive): Describes whether someone is task-oriented or people-oriented. Task-oriented individuals focus on logic and projects, while people-oriented individuals value relationships and interactions.
  • Four Components of the DiSC Model: Marston’s work led to the identification of four distinct personality styles represented by the DiSC acronym:
    • Dominance (D): Confident, results-oriented, and holistic thinkers.
    • Influence (i): Open, enthusiastic, and focused on influencing others.
    • Steadiness (S): Cooperative, patient, and dependable, valuing stability.
    • Conscientiousness (C): Detail-oriented, quality-focused, and independent.
  • Balanced Personality Styles: No single style is better than the others. Individuals exhibit a mix of all four styles, and the DiSC model helps individuals identify their comfort zones and adjust their behavior for effective interactions.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger

Read Next: HeuristicsBiases.

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