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A Brief History of DiSC

As authorized distributors of Carlson Learning Company (now Inscape Publishing) Gary Little and Pamela Cole both used Personal Profile System® (the famous “blue DiSC paper profile”) in their consulting and training practices. Although they lived in different parts of the country and had different businesses with different areas of concentration, they often met at Performax (one of the former names of Inscape Publishing, Inc.) during the 1980s and dreamed about how technology could make the DiSC information much more accessible. Both being “geeks” at heart, they had a vision of a day when all the information collected in the DiSC archives could be delivered in an easy-to-use format.

It was their good fortune to be having these wishful thinking sessions right at the beginning of the PC age. Both Gary and Pamela had a background in designing information systems, so this was natural for them to think about. Gary had had quite an extensive career in data processing before he moved to the lucrative recruiting business. It was a boom market for computer professionals and Gary did quite well as a “headhunter.” Pamela had moved into the training end of the business after deciding the time and travel demands of the consulting industry didn’t suit her lifestyle.

In 1990 Gary decided to pursue the idea of DiSC software more aggressively. He approached the president of Performax and suggested the idea.  As soon as he got the “go ahead,” Gary called Pamela and asked if she would be interested in writing the content and helping with the design. Lew Russell, VP of International at Performax was assigned the task of managing this duo of “wild ducks.” Without Lew this product would probably not have been accomplished.

The first version of the software was released at a distributor event in June 1990 whose participants were very enthusiastic about the success potential of this product. However they had to overcome some significant challenges. Gary and Pamela had made some critical design decisions in the development of this product. First of all, it would require a computer with a hard drive. Secondly, it required an HP laser printer. Most of the potential distributors not only didn’t have a computer, but also had an aversion to technology. Those who had computers had Macintosh and didn’t like the idea of moving to a PC, and the software only came in a PC version. Surprisingly, the distributors quickly overcame these challenges.

The Personal Profile System Software was off and running despite many technical challenges with printer drivers and the hardware device known as the codelock. The software used electronic usages called “clicks” and click sales were rising rapidly. By the end of the second year clicks sales were over a million a year.

Pamela also undertook the process of revalidating the DiSC Personal Profile System (PPS). After requesting Personal Profile System data from active distributors who were using DiSC, she compiled a large sample and did some psychometric analysis. It was clear that the scales needed to be revised and the validity improved by changing and adding items to the response form. Pamela brought this information to the president of Carlson Learning who made the brave decision to move forward with revalidation.

The revalidation of DiSC was conducted in the fall of 1993 by Pamela and the professional research firm that had been contracted to gather the right mix for the sample. The Personal Profile System was completely revised, response items were added, scales were changed, and new segment numbers were created. PPS2800 was launched in January 1994.

Of course, changing the flagship product meant all the other products that were tied to the DiSC paper profile had to be changed. It took the entire next year to complete the changes in all the related products and by then PPSS Windows™ was ready to launch.

PPSSW was a radical departure from the DOS report generator. For the first time, people could look at their data onscreen and do comparisons “on the fly.” Now any printer that had Windows™ could be used. Most organizations still had the software installed on the desktop computer of an administrative person who entered the data and ran the reports. Many distributors provided this service to the clients.

The vision of a just-in-time "Desktop Coach” would have to wait until more people had PCs and more of those PCs were laptops. Pamela and Gary still carried the message that the information needed to be alive and dynamic - not a report that was read once and filed away. The “Reader Version” (using the model of Adobe Acrobat) was created, allowing anyone to view their data onscreen and browse all of the information.

In addition to wanting changes in how the interpretive information was delivered, people started requesting alternative methods for responding. Using a paper form no longer met the needs of many, so an online response form capacity was built. This is a simple Internet-delivered interface that allows anyone with access to the Internet to respond online. The software was used to process the data into the final output, which was delivered either as a print product or as a PDF file.

The technology currently used to deliver all DiSC Personal Profile System reports including DiSC General Characteristics and DiSC Role Behavior Analysis, as well as other Inscape Publishing learning assessments and group reports is called EPIC (Electronic Profile Information Center).

Gary continues to diligently work on the international language versions and Pamela tours internationally sharing the vision of “Just-in-Time Desktop Coach” with audiences who more and more are looking for tools to make their self-management and relationships with others easier to understand and apply.


DiSC® is a registered trademark of Inscape Publishing, Inc.