Pick a doomsday scenario. Here’s a few to choose from — hundreds of mutant warriors charge at you. Maybe the imperialists are hot on your tail. Or the Nazis are using every diabolical strategy and resource to hunt you down. What personality type do you choose to help you escape peril?
Do you pick the ENFP, who just wants to talk things over with the bad guys? (They’re not really that bad, just give them a chance). Do you pick an INTJ who will pontificate about the most efficient escape route? (It’s contingent on so many factors). Do you choose the ISTJ, committed to honoring the rules of engagement? (Things will go even more awry if tradition is broken!). Or do you go with the character who is already out the door, charging the enemy with a gun in each hand while dodging bullets with a Mustang Shelby idling nearby for your escape?
That character would be the ISTP, the archetype in the save-the-day, action hero formula.
ISTPs are born ready. If every person is born with inherent characteristics that ultimately determine which of Myers and Briggs' sixteen personality types we are, then the ISTPs have clear advantages — dominated by introverted thinking, they are independent problem solvers. Auxiliary extraverted sensors, they’re subconsciously aware of the environment, and connecting to it in ways unique to them. Incorporate their make-it-look-easy competency with hands-on problems, add their never-back-down risk taking penchant and look what you’ve got — the rogue warriors of fiction, big screen, little screen, books, and galaxies far, far away.
But also, in real life. Real life ISTPs include trailblazer Amelia Earhart. Adventurous, sensory creator of legendary characters, Ernest Hemingway. Cool, mysterious James Dean.
But back to the ISTPs that do the heavy lifting in the stories that we love. The irreverent, unlikely hero that wins everyone over without hardly trying, much less caring, and this is exactly why the fans want more characters like them.
“She’s not alone,” says Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow in Marvel’s Infinity War. As Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, is thrown by the villain Proxima who tells her she’s going to die alone, you hear the characteristically confident, calm voice of battle-born ISTP Black Widow defending her fellow Avenger. Black Widow has snuck up on the enemy unaware and caught them at a disadvantage.
Black Widow uses her extraverted sensing to make the enemy feel cocky and plan her escape. In Marvel’s The Avengers, Natasha lets the bad guys monologue as she’s held prisoner, taking hits, mentally gearing up for torture, all as she sizes up the henchmen in their respective positions.
“I’m multitasking,” Natasha says in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as she jumps over a railing.
In Marvel’s EndGame, Black Widow’s predilection for logic (Ti) and her inferior extraverted feeling (Fe), both come in to play in her final act. Emotion is not a deciding factor for Ti’s, especially when it could jeopardize the greater good. But her underdeveloped extraverted feeling can’t fathom allowing her friend Hawkeye sacrifice himself as she does nothing. Doing nothing isn’t an option for an ISTP. As she cares deeply but doesn’t always show this, action is the best way to prove it.
In the Divergent books by Veronica Roth, Tris Prior is also an ISTP. She chooses to align with a faction called Dauntless. And (surprise!), she sacrifices herself in the end, just like Natasha Romanov. However, female ISTPs are not as common as male ISTPs, in fiction or real life.
Han Solo and Indiana Jones
“I’m making it up as I go along,” says Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones and Han Solo, both definitive ISTPs, broadened the interpretation of a traditional hero.
The dominant Introverted Thinking is written into almost every action we see the characters take. Dr. Jones’s field, archaeology, requires discipline, and the way he lives it is completely solitary. The accents of the auxiliary Extraverted Sensing function parlay well into the physical demands of the adventures of both Dr. Jones and Han Solo.
Han Solo, the “stuck up, half-witted, scruffy looking nerf herder” of the Star Wars franchise, adds exactly the right amount of swagger to a cast of rule followers and feelers. His risk taking traits advance the plot of each Star Wars movie, arguably more than any other character. His unorthodox philosophies — he’s not afraid to defy conventionalism — gives the audience the first clue that he’s an ISTP. “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid,” he says to Luke Skywalker. An ISTP and the tools of his trade make for a worthy adversary.
Han Solo’s approach to romance is also textbook ISTP. “You like me because I’m a scoundrel,” he tells Princess Leia. As an ISTP, Han Solo has enough introspection to know himself well, but because he gathers information via his senses, he tunes into Leia, at this point at least an object of his curiosity, and understands her attraction to him.
“No, I don’t have lamb’s blood, but I’ll improvise.” That’s Dean Winchester, a “hunter” of creatures in television’s longest running sci-fi show, Supernatural. Dean Winchester is one of two main characters in the show whose evolution clearly follows in the footsteps of fictional ISTPs before him, but not at the expense of originality. Worked into Dean’s character is the lack of sensitivity ISTPs are sometimes accused of, for the sake of just doing what needs to get done.
But he does it with rugged style, even if he lacks the nerdy sophistication of his INFJ brother. As a Sensor, his intelligence is applied in practical terms, not theoretical. He knows what he brings to the fight.
“I’m a grunt, Sam,” Dean says to the younger brother he ruthlessly — and sometimes foolishly — protects. While stating he isn’t the brains of the hunter operation, he says “One thing I do know, I’ll die with a gun in my hand.”
And if he doesn’t have a gun, or the lamb’s blood, he uses what he’s got. The ISTP decision making is quick and adaptive. One of the reasons why Dean’s brother, Sam, responds to him by saying “You’re not a grunt, Dean. You’re a genius.”
“You do your best thinking when you’re not thinking at all.” This is perhaps the best description about any ISTP, from DC’s Aquaman. There is no consensus about Aquaman’s personality type. Watching the 2018 version of Aquaman, it’s hard to deny the ISTP traits Arthur Curry possesses. He is mostly a loner, but gains energy from the ocean and it’s creatures. He is absolutely an ‘S’, using his (more than) five senses to interact with the world around him. His decisions are not based on emotions, so he’s not a feeler. His flexible, looking-for-a-good-time lifestyle is all perceiving.
This statement about Aquaman’s fluid intelligence is why he is the perfect example ISTP archetype. High stakes situations, the point of no return, the life-changing split second decisions are the most successful, not to mention exciting, when an ISTP handles all the things.
Why is ISTP the Archetype?
ISTPs have a coveted intelligence; call it street smarts, call it wit; and they’re physically tough. In the movies or television series, they’re the characters who got themselves into trouble by being spontaneous, or they discovered something nefarious while disassembling a system, then had to maneuver their way out of it. At the end of the story, they just want to be left alone to do their own thing.
Not every hero can be Captain America. Nothing against Steve Rogers, but how many of us are that guy? The ISTP archetype is not the outright victor, though they have all the makings to be. In some stories, they’re the underdog, in others they’re the anti-hero. They’re happily imperfect, because they’re liberated from other’s expectations. It’s all spelled out in the order of their function stack: they quickly see things as they are, and break things down to their smallest common denominator (Ti). They connect to the world around them in real time, and with charm (Se). They tap into complexities and nuances, but keep their notions close to the vest (Ni). And lastly in their function stack is the extraverted feeling (Fe), those vexing emotions.
If only emotions were as easy to handle as a whip, a V8 engine, or a good blaster.