Pierce Presents: ISTP
By Michael Pierce
The ISTP was referred to as ‘the Crafter’ by David Keirsey, which some change to ‘Craftsman,’ or in a few cases ‘Mechanic.’ In general, the stereotype in the Jungian community is of just that; a terse grease monkey who has mastered the practical aspects of their art. This image can be applied to a variety of professions: Pilot, businessman, soldier, martial arts competitor, or Jedi knight. In every case, however, the ISTP is seen as terse, very focused, often callous and no-nonsense, straightforward, and usually exceptional at what they do, handling physical or mental challenges or puzzles with applaudable skill, reflex and ingenuity. I can’t say I have an actual complaint for this stereotype, except that it is still limiting. The ISTP has tertiary Ni which is not taken into sufficient account by the stereotype, but which plays a very important role in their personality, and I think a proper understanding of it could help blur the line between the eight intuitive types and the eight sensation types to just being sixteen undivided types.
As always, let’s break down what constitutes the ISTP functionally.
They are a Perceiving type, meaning that they prefer extroverted perceiving and introverted judging. This means that they base their judgment criteria on subjective, inner information, while simply observing and drinking in objective information and experiences. You could say that they are more receptive towards the outside world and more aggressive towards their inner experience.
Their preferred way of doing this is through extroverted sensation and introverted thinking. Extroverted sensation is photographic: it has the most direct relationship with objects of all the functions, giving them the clearest and most realistic perspective. Introverted thinking is deductive: it seeks to develop an internally consistent logical system by deducing all the necessary implications of a set of premises.
Third, they are very similar to the ESTP; both prefer Se and Ti. The ISTP, however, prefers Ti more than Se. Nevertheless, they are in some sense the same type, or at least sister types. I personally like to call STP types the “Warriors,” because they combine a sharp and vivid perception of the world with rigorous ordering and logical deduction within their minds, building a logical system of the real world and thus helping them to smoothly navigate it like a soldier in battle. Of course, “Warrior” is merely a nickname to help me remember the STP nature, and does not mean that STPs are all Navy SEALS or that they have any interest in war at all.
The ISTP, then, is a “warrior” for whom their inner logical principles and deductions are more interesting and important than their objective observations. They are primarily concerned with developing and ordering their subjective understandings of things into consistent systems.
The word I like to use to describe the ISTP nature is “mastering.” Like the INTP, the ISTP’s dominant Ti seeks to understand systems and the framework behind things. However, while the INTP is focused on the framework behind possibilities inspired by the object, the ISTP is focused on the framework of the object itself. This is where the stereotype comes from, because the ISTP often likes to take things apart to see how they work, from clocks to computers to ideas, history, anything that’s an object. They examine the world with a sharp Se lens, and then organize their impressions into a consistent logical system. While the INTP is more traditionally philosophical and abstracting, the ISTP is more grounded in the here-and-now, and therefore their examinations have the purpose of mastering things, of having as complete and down-to-earth understanding of how things work as possible, so that the ISTP can “strike naturally.”
We tend to associate this attitude with the style of a cinematic zen master or martial artist. As a mnemonic I believe it is useful. The ISTP often quietly and intensely studies a thing, working it over in their mind or with their hands. Many ISTPs have the remarkable ability to enter new activities or hobbies and do reasonably well with relatively little practice compared to other beginners, because their clear view of what is really going on and their nimble use of Ti help them see both the general system and individual quirks and repetitions of an activity’s performance, and then recreate them and improve upon them. The ISTP’s goal is to master their activities so thoroughly that they can perform them without any hesitancy, wavering, doubting or fear; they want to “strike naturally,” smoothly, and silently. They want to be so in tune with what they’re doing that they don’t even have to think, they always know in the moment what needs to be done.
This idea of fearlessness is very important to the ISTP. Their focus on objects puts them very much in the here-and-now, and the here-and-now doesn’t wait for you to figure out what to do next. The ISTP tries to understand the logic of their environment to the degree that they can naturally adapt to each and every new thing life throws at them, especially while in the thick of an activity. To do this, they must be fearless and unhesitating, absolutely sure of themselves and what they’re doing. Life requires taking risks, and taking risks requires absolute self-confidence. For instance, imagine that you are an awesome adventurer and you’re being chased by fifteen million blood-thirsty radioactive ants in the bowels of South America, and while running you approach a gaping chasm about, say nine feet wide, which you think you could jump across to safety. If while running towards it you hesitate even in the slightest because of the staggering depth of the chasm, or for some uncertainty of whether you can really make it, or because your cell phone rings just as you’re about to jump, or whatever – if you hesitate, your momentum and focus will instantly decrease and you will probably falter just enough to miss the ledge and tumble to your death. But if you retain focus, have complete self-confidence in how you will go about jumping to maximize your stride, and let nothing disturb you, then you will make it. This is the attitude of the ISTP in a nutshell; they try to live so as to have no fear in this sense: to have self-confidence and mastery over themselves and their activities so that they never hesitate in the face of opportunity or obstacle.
Ni plays an essential role in the ISTP’s mastering nature. One of the IDR Labs articles I’ve used extensively in my more recent videos helps explain this: While the Ne/Si axis of the INTP often manifests a broader, meticulous search for all the different facets of an idea, the Ni/Se axis tends to focus intensely on one facet, the facet that yields the richest possibilities right now. In other words, the Ne/Si axis is capricious and non-committal to any one perspective, but is resultantly well-traveled and multifaceted, while the Ni/Se axis is devoted and intensely committed to the richest perspective right now, becoming an expert in a narrow field and at the exclusion of other perspectives, at least until the well runs dry and the Ni/Se type is forced to move on. So, while the INTP demonstrates a well-traveled but more capricious attitude to ideas, the ISTP demonstrates a narrow, intense, and committed attitude to ideas. The INTP often comes across as more clever, traditionally academic, and broadly read, but the ISTP comes across as focused, impossible to distract, minimalist and terse, sharp, cold and hard as steel.
There is a fascinating comparison to be made between the ISTP and the INFJ because they share the same unrepressed introverted process: Ti and Ni. In the INFJ, the focus is on contemplating inner possibilities, and exploring their boundless associations, in other words, passively observing their intuition; their Ti is used more in the service of Ni, to organize it and make it more manageable. The ISTP is the reverse: The contemplation of Ni is in the service of Ti, contemplating associations and possibilities to help them make a more consistent logical system. So in comparison, the INFJ is a passive observer, while the ISTP is a sharp and active constructionist or judger.
Ni manifests in the ISTP as an intense and single-minded focus: Se photographs the object directly, while Ni delves deep into the associations the object arouses in the subject. Together, in the service of Ti, the ISTP can make a piercing and exceptional analysis of things. This intensity has several other interesting effects. First, the ISTP is notoriously terse, as I mentioned before. Ni tends to have a condensing motion, in that it tries to synthesize, collapse, and summarize information with just a few elegant strokes. Meanwhile Ti, while not demonstrating the same collapsing motion, still tries to get at the abstract framework of a thing: together, the ISTP is especially reducing, always seeking to simplify ideas and get at the barest essentials. The INTP tries to get at the bare essentials too, but is not direct or intense in their approach like the ISTP. The INTP has a broader, curious, exploratory motion to them, while the ISTP has a more devoted, obsessive, diving motion to them, and it shows in the principles they develop. They try to express as much as possible in only a few words. This also applies to the systems they create, which are meant to be as simple, condensed, and pure as possible. They like to do things in swift, definitive strokes, bereft of fluff and internal inefficiency. Vladimir Putin, whatever you may think of him, put it this way in the context of fighting: “You must hit first, and hit so hard that your opponent will not rise to his feet.” In other words, if that first stroke is not precise and potent enough, then the effort quickly becomes sloppy and much less efficient.
This leads into another notorious aspect of the ISTP, their repressed Fe. The ISTP’s preciseness, directness and stripping away of inefficiency includes stripping off any sugarcoating in their language and expression, any fluff or appearances such as social tact and graces. The ISTP can be, and often is, very blunt and direct, cutting straight to the problem, because that’s how they work. This can be admirable and a great advantage, but if undeveloped it can quickly become a disadvantage too. The ISTP’s piercing thoughts can sometimes drill through other people without them realizing the extent of the damage. In other words, their intensity can sometimes unintentionally offend and hurt others. A great example is Steve Jobs, who has become infamous for an abrasively direct presentation. As he put it, “I say when something sucks rather than sugarcoat it.” In other words, you might make him a design for the next big Apple product, and during his review he points out that he likes this idea and this idea and to develop them more, but the rest of it, frankly, just sucks, is too clunky and this and that, and won’t work because of this. As an ISTP, it’s likely this bluntness is not intended to be derogatory, but to be honest, and people can usually sense that. It doesn’t make them feel any better, though, and that’s part of the problem. Directness and bluntness can be very good, and are often seen as qualifications for honesty, but this assumes that the ISTP’s idea is, in fact, the best idea. If it is not, then the ISTP’s piercing manner is no longer an admirable stand for truth and justice but a misapplied barb requiring similar sharpness to counter. The ISTP is like a serpent covered in hard, sharp scales, and if unchecked, what it would consider normal or natural might seriously injure or lacerate those without such scales around them.
So, in summary, the ISTP is mastering, figuring out the logical systems of reality so that they can perform tasks with utmost assurance and naturalness, giving them a characteristic fearlessness and cool head even in desperate situations. They are intensely focused, and their tertiary Ni seeks to collapse ideas into simple, elegant principles, making them terse with language and presentation. Finally, their repressed Fe results in a blunt and direct nature, cutting to the chase, and sometimes unintentionally hurting other people in the process.
Thanks for reading, and for all the ISTPs out there, thanks for your cool-headedness in the face of danger and piercing examination of the world.
Watch this piece as a video here.