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What it Really Takes to Be a Mastermind

Monday September 9, 2019

One of the unfortunate requirements of interpersonal communication is, some labeling is required. This is certainly true when discussing personality type.

In my opinion, one of the more unfortunate personality type-related labels is “Mastermind”, a label often applied to the INTJ type.

While I love having my ego stroked as much as anybody else, I think “ego” is an important word to keep in mind here. Because if personality type can teach us one really important thing, it’s that there are many types of ego, and any individual who becomes obsessed with their own ego is going to have problems.

Having An Ego Means Not Paying Attention to Other Important Stuff

(Note: In Jungian-oriented psychology discussion, the ego concept is quite a bit different from the day-to-day, conversational use of the “ego” term. Having an ego doesn’t mean you’re an unhealthy person. And trying to avoid having an ego can be a dangerous exercise for your personal health.)

For every gifted aspect of our own personality type that we INTJs love, things like our deeply intuitive perception skills, or our broad knowledge exposure, there’s a corresponding lack of attention to something else. And while this lack of attention is normal and even helpful in many ways, it becomes a huge and risky blind spot when we spend too much time propping up that single, ego-defined dimension of our character.

Fortunately, I’d say that many, if not most of the “I know I’m an INTJINTJs I’ve met in real life have been aware of this: There’s so much more flavor to be found in life after you learn to stop giving your ego so much attention. There’s also the comparison angle to think about: There’s definitely a richer life ahead when you start to realize you don’t have to be better than others, for this reason or that one. (As if that such a thing could be quantified! But I believe that part of the INTJ ego often wishes this were so; it would seem to make life and its goals so much easier to define.)

Being Good at Comparing Things Can Mean Having A Comparison Flaw

I remember—much to my embarrassment—spending way too much time in my younger years thinking, “I’m better than that person because of X, and even if they were better than me at X, I’d still be so good at X + Y + Z that I’m probably the only person in the world who…” Boy, did I know how to destroy a potential friendship before it even got started!

In effect, I was frantically attempting to bury my insecurities using my ego functions. What I perceived as a strength in that person had gained some amount of unwanted control over me, and I pushed back with whatever tools were first to come to my attention. I attempted to look ahead, to foresee a grand judgment-day showdown in which individuals were all compared, skill by skill, factoid by factoid, in front of a grand bar of judicial discernment.

If you’re reading this, and you know what I mean, hopefully you have cringed pretty hard by now. If not, feel free to take a break to do so. :-)

So what do we do with this silly Mastermind title?

I think we need to own the fact that this label exists for both good and bad, and probably do some kicking of our own asses with it. Hopefully in a patient and farsighted way.

I don’t think we need to go off on a rant about Keirsey, who developed the term and applied it to the INTJ. He did this from a temperament perspective, but let’s just say that the label itself has started to slip out of his grip, being applied to INTJs in general, across various personality models. (Perhaps that’s been a bit maddening for him? In reading his books, he seems like he really appreciates precision…)

Still, Keirsey thought that INTJs were “the most self-confident of all the types.” (He also had some interesting things to say about our vulnerabilities.)

But let’s embrace the term “Mastermind,” embrace it in the sense of Jung’s extraversion. Let’s get hands-on with it, engage with it, and in a wise way. Below are some ideas for what it can mean, in the positive sense, to take on this title:

1. Taking a Most Important Perspective

A primary characteristic of the INTJ-as-Mastermind is what Dario Nardi calls the “metaperspective”. Seeing oneself from the outside. Thinking big-picture. Transcending the ego and looking after the collective need. Let’s use this gift to keep our ego in perspective. It is one perspective-taking style among many.

Speaking of perspectives, is it too much to ask that we keep in mind that INTJ intuition is subjective? I don’t think so. This is the “i” in “Ni,” the introverted, subjective nature of our favored intuition function. It is important, then, to remember: Our intuition, and thus our perspective on a given issue, is only as good as the quality of our past experience with the issue. We can critique all we want, but is there a chance that others have a deeper, more nuanced, and thus a higher-quality, more educated perspective? Well, it’s worth considering before jumping in to cast stones.

2. Broadening Our Minds

Let’s also remember that the INTJ Mastermind constantly gobbles up knowledge, facts, and uses them to feed the intuition. Let’s keep doing that and broaden our perspectives. Even though personality type models are powerful, humans are more than capable of working with multiple models. Let’s keep that multiple-model perspective, and in doing so we’ll be able to be more agile, powerful, and less ego-attached problem solvers.

3. Being—gasp—Vulnerable, for the Sake of Growth

A personal treasure: Let’s stay open to having our egos smashed. Let’s stay open to exposing ourselves to things that will show us that we are nothing. The more we prize our existing knowledge, our existing insights, and our existing state of mind, the more vulnerable we make ourselves to the future, and all that it holds. Such a move would be, I think, very un-mastermind-like. Yet it can happen to any of us, as we reflexively push the world away, a la Jung’s introversion concept.

As we become more of a new, better, smarter self, it will only help us to hold ourselves lightly, to learn to laugh at our mistakes, and even to learn to harbor serious regrets.

4. Knowing Other Egos, and Their Value

And finally: Let’s explore those other functions, even the painful ones. Let’s use that knowledge to become expert analysts, consultants, people who can help others feel rightly proud of themselves. Anybody can criticize. Let’s show others their gifts, and at the same time, let’s be aware of key personal blind spots and slowly build flexibility in those traditionally brittle areas. We can learn from other types at least as much as we can learn from our own. Let’s stretch our minds and allow in some crazy possibilities.


Over time, I hope we can help an increasing number of INTJs learn that one of the most helpful tricks you can teach your ego is to lay down its arms long enough that you can begin to grow in other important dimensions. This ought to be a valued lesson for such a contingency-minded type as ours.

And of course—there are other titles and labels out there. The Architect. The Critic. Even “Balzac,” a label from the world of Socionics. In some ways, some of these labels will define us. In other ways, they never will. Where possible, let’s put them to use in such a way that they do us some good, and let’s apply that good forward to help lift everyone else up, too.

Filed in: Openness /49/ | Therapeutic Practice /144/ | Intuition /61/ | Essays /52/

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