Kind Masterminds

First, some personal backstory: after a few meetings with a career counselor not long ago, I took a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test and a Strong Interest Inventory. The assessments were extremely satisfying and helpful for me: it’s not that I learned anything about myself that I didn’t already know, but the assessments gave voice to and legitimated my preferences for the work sphere. I’m introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judgmental, but I have a stronger interest in artistic pursuits than is usually associated with the INTJ type. This means that I’m often the person who provides structure in a creative environment; I’m inventive, but will take no risks without scrupulous research; I’ll take charge when needed, but prefer to work quietly in the background.

I know that such tests, MBTI in particular, have their flaws, but I found my results tremendously empowering. Instead of feeling self-conscious about the dynamic I introduce  when I focus on bottom lines and practical applications, I consider such intervention a strength that I can offer. Instead of feeling harassed by emails and phone calls and frustrated with my own lack of patience, I can remember that I prefer to be the one to initiate interactions, and make informed choices about when and how to make myself available to others. (Theoretically one would discover these work style preferences through the Two Exercises I advocate for jobhunters, but the temptation to downplay introverted idiosyncrasies in favor of a ready-for-anything Game Face is strong.)

Still coasting on the glow of these revelations, I gleefully followed a Tumblr meme to learn what characters in literature share my MB type.  TV Tropes calls INTJs the “Mastermind” type, and its examples are mostly nerds, outcasts, and villains: Ross Gellar and Ben Wyatt, Jafar and Scar, Batman, Smaug. How unflattering! I’m reminded of a book my press published some time ago about eggheads in popular culture: during an awkward phase between the calculated mass destruction of WW2 and the physics-powered Space Race, while Americans were both fascinated and terrified by the power of the atom,the planners and schemers of television and literature tended to be suspicious characters. Even today, you rarely encounter a kind mastermind in popular culture: at worst, you get megalomaniacs and villains; at best, even the good guys tend to lack emotional reasoning and social bonds.

Such characterizations make me long for representations of INTJ-types who use their powers for good instead of evil: characters who are introverted, but not sociopathic; intuitive, not irrational; thinking, but not unfeeling; judging, but not always judgmental. Here is a short list of relatable and even emulatable characters who may or may not be INTJs but share a characteristic love of logic, self-sufficiency, and pragmatism:

Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice. Say what you will about his charms or lack thereof, but when the people he cares about need help, Mr. Darcy gets shit done. Then he gets all flustered and weird about people knowing and thanking him for his help.

Sherlock Holmes, various adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. Although Sherlock Holmes is pretty terrible about human interactions, he is a mastermind who more or less acts in favor of the common good–or at least reacts, since he’s not so much devising benevolent schemes as dismantling malevolent ones. The BBC adaptation in particular dramatizes this juxtaposition of Sherlock’s particular skills and limitations with those of evil geniuses.

Olivia Pope, Scandal. Olivia solves problems for a living. She is a quick thinker and a pragmatic planner, but also a quiet aesthete who values her alone time. As I noted in Things I Love About Scandal, it’s unusual for an introverted character to carry a company and a television series the way Olivia Pope does. But other characters allow her to tell them what to do, not because they fear her or love her, but because they know she’s right.

Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit. Bilbo makes a much better INTJ than Smaug. Sure, they both live in holes and prefer not to be bothered, but when it comes down to a battle of wits, it’s Bilbo who bends the slippery logic of riddles in his favor. Smaug loses his head and flies off in a fiery huff; Bilbo, who (like me) abhors a risk, adventures with caution.

Violet Baudelaire, A Series of Unfortunate Events series. Violet has a talent for inventions, a practical form of problem-solving that is most effective when combined with her little brother’s imagination and her baby sister’s brute force.

Tali’Zorah vas Normandy, Mass Effect series. Even during her adolescent pilgrimage, Tali is already a mechanical genius with enviable survival skills and enough self-possession to travel the galaxy on her own. But like most quarians, she understands pragmatism doesn’t mean self-interest; she is deeply invested in promoting positive outcomes for her community and team.

I welcome further examples of introverted leaders and unlikely heroes who use their analytical prowess for good.

More fun with personality types:


10 thoughts on “Kind Masterminds”

  1. I love it. Thank you! (Not personally a super big fan of the Myers-Briggs test, or personality typing in general, but this is still great)

  2. I read this right after I sent you a text message, but I swear I wasn’t able to let you initiate interaction! 😀 I’m taken with the idea of thinking about introverted heroes, even though I can’t think of another example off the top of my head. I did think of Temperance Brennan, from the Bones series, but she’s so unevenly characterized that I have difficulty really making a case for her. I’m planning on doing that meme, myself; the Myers-Briggs is a little anxiety-inducing for me, though, so I’ve been a little tentative about it.

    1. Yeah, it’s actually not very easy to armchair-diagnose the personality types–or rather, it’s easy enough throw around classifications but you could make a case for any of several variations. For example, Marvel Universe Loki is often characterized as an INTJ (mastermind!), but the MBTI in Fiction tumblr argues that he’s more of an INFJ–which makes more sense to me, given how his motives are rooted in strong emotions. But INFJs are called the “protector” type, which is obviously an odd fit. I think it’s fun to discuss in part because doing so reveals the different values culturally assigned to thinking versus feeling and so forth.
      I’d be curious to hear more about what makes the MBTI anxiety-inducing, if you felt like talking about it.

  3. HEY! I always hover between INFJ and INTJ on those tests (I take them every few years JUST TO SEE if I’m any different.) Very excited to see that I’m quasi-Violet-Baudelaire. Current favorite fictional INTJ (or FJ?): Dipper Pines from Gravity Falls. It really is difficult to think of positive role models for our group.

    1. You know, I’ve always heard that a person’s MBTI doesn’t change, but then I used to always test as an INFP. I think a crucial difference is that I was taking this recent test to think about where I am in my career and where I could be going. My social life has somewhat different needs and limitations than my professional life. That, too, is helpful for me to consider: I am a person apart from my work. (Academia encourages a sort of identification with one’s projects that is hard to shake off, I think.)

  4. I’m an INTJ too and I agree with everything you said. I think the most accurate (and flattering) portrayal of an INTJ in fiction I’ve ever seen is Dipper Pines from Gravity Falls. He’s not some evil cackling maniac, so people try to type him as an INTP or INFJ, which honestly makes no sense. He’s the most “INTJ” fictional character I’ve ever seen. And he’s a good and likable guy. 🙂

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