Think Like Tony Stark With Big Idea Thinking

By on July 19, 2018

As a child, Tony Stark was one of my biggest heroes and inspirations. Here was a superhero whose real identity was every bit as interesting as his superheroic alter ego. Whose only power was his smarts, and who could solve any problem by applying his supergenius intellect.

Usually while standing dramatically on a balcony somewhere…

Futurists whose thinking is on a whole different level to the rest of us.

The Marvel universe is actually full of supergeniuses, but none are quite like Stark. The exciting thing though, is that characters like this really do exist in real life. Futurists whose thinking is on a whole different level to the rest of us. Individuals who really have changed the world. In this video, I’m going to attempt to unfold some of what makes those people unique.

Tony Stark futurist

A New Perspective on Genius

Genius was once more simply described as having an extraordinarily high IQ. The problems with this definition are well documented however. More and more then, psychologists are converging on a notion of genius that places greater emphasis on creativity and eminent achievement.

In fact, when we attempt a post-mortem IQ assessment (which is also likely how we would assess the IQ of a fictional character), we look more at examples of brilliance through accomplishments than anything else.

It is not enough to be highly skilled at a subject. To be a Tony Stark-esque supergenius, you need to change the game in one or multiple fields with paradigm shifting ideas, or world-changing contributions.

Neither practicing dual n-back tests, nor using nootropics will help you to accomplish this.

So where do you start?

A Thirst for Knowledge

First, we should seek to expand our knowledge as far as possible. Creativity, it is said, is neurologically nothing more than the unique combination of two existing ideas. In this way, the brain is an ‘input/output’ machine. The more knowledge you have in your fields of interest, the greater chance you have of noticing a novel connection.

Tony Stark engineer

At the same time, as discussed in my video on neuroplasticity, constantly learning keeps the brain more plastic by encouraging the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor and other key chemicals. At the same time, learning particular skills can give you particular tools for thinking.

Tony Stark is able to think like an engineer because he has studied engineering. And the kind of logical resourcefulness this teaches can also be applicable in many other areas.

I highly recommend learning to program as a tool for thinking. It’s something anyone can do, with countless practical benefits, and it’s a brilliant cognitive workout.

Steve Jobs said:

“I think everyone should learn to program, because it teaches you how to think.”

I happen to agree. And likewise, Elon Musk (who was consulted on how Tony Stark should be portrayed in the movies), is known to have begun programming at a young age.

But go beyond that too and learn languages, martial arts, juggling, and whatever else you can.

When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics? — Last night.   

In future, I’ll be covering accelerated learning techniques in depth in a video, so stay tuned for that one!


With more input and tools for thinking, we then need to coax out those ideas and those unique combinations. How do we achieve that ideation?

Surprisingly, the worst thing you can do is to try and ‘force’ an idea. When we are stressed or highly motivated – or even highly caffeinated – we are in a fight-or-flight response. This raises the blood pressure and heartrate and it also gives us a kind of tunnel vision. It makes us focus yes, but it also prevents us from thinking outside the box. Daydreaming is not useful when we are being chased by a lion! (Reference)

In an old video on thinking outside the box, I discussed how cognitive biases such as ‘functional fixedness’ can block the creative process, and how any form of extrinsic stress or motivation makes this harder to overcome. Even working toward a monetary reward actually prevents divergent thinking (reference).

This is why engaging in menial tasks, or going for ‘inspiration walks’, can help to let those great ideas come. It engages the ‘default mode network’ of brain regions, sometimes also called the ‘imagination network’.

This is likely why Einstein famously stumbled upon special relativity while working at the patent office. And it’s why being ‘present’ isn’t always superior to using the default mode network and letting the mind wander (and wonder).

Productive Meditation

Walking is particularly effective at promoting creativity and especially when surrounded by nature – as it has been shown to help invoke a good mood and sense of calm conducive to creativity. Allow your mind to drift off occasionally and you may naturally engage in what Jung referred to as ‘active imagination’.

Cal Newport in his book ‘Deep Work’ suggests another unique form of meditation designed to facilitate deep, creative thought. He calls it ‘productive meditation’ – the idea being that you dedicate some time to simply thinking about an issue you need to solve. Meditation where the idea isn’t to empty the mind, but to fill it.

I suggest that you can also use this to practice ‘big idea thinking’ – to work your creative problem-solving muscles by challenging yourself to solve unsolvable problems, come up with new ideas, or navigate hypothetical situations. I call it Cognitive Simulation Training.

While going for a walk or just sitting quietly, ask yourself: what would you do if you become prime minister or president? What great new app could you create if you had the time and skill? Simply dedicating time to creative thought is how I’ve come up with all the ideas for my most successful apps! If you had to write the next James Bond movie, what would happen? How do you think the universe started?

And if you want to become a futurist, try predicting how today’s technology is going to change the world. And how you can help with that.

This way, you practice thinking big. And the SAID principle – Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands – suggests that this would be enough to help you become much better at that kind of thinking. Use it or lose it!

Plus, we know that the brain loves big idea thinking. That this is incredibly good for brain health as a whole (Reference: Make Your Brain Smarter by Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D.). Or better yet: find a job that forces you to learn and solve complex problems every day.

Of course, thinking big is also what will eventually give you the inspiration to enact big change.

Big Idea Thinking

Oh, and you can also use this type of meditation to come up with contingency plans for various outcomes. Tony Stark – like Batman – has a plan already devised for every eventuality. You could too.

Making Waves

Like I said though, Tony Stark is quite unlike the other Marvel geniuses. He is removed from your Hank Pyms, Bruce Banners, and Reed Richards. Why? Because he manages to remain grounded and cool.

(Well, as cool as any fictional comic book character can be.)

Tony Stark is as far removed from your stereotypical Big-Bang Theory super nerd as it gets. He is not just a scientific genius, but also a charming, persuasive, business genius.

In the real world, being a genius is of no use unless you’re able to leverage that intellect, inspire others, and affect change.

Regarded as one of the smartest people in the world today in terms of his IQ, Christopher Langan has worked most of his life as a bouncer!

But the problem is that there really is a noted correlation between high IQs and social awkwardness. Geniuses may be isolated due partly to a disinterest in the petty concerns of those around them. They might overanalyse their responses to questions. And they might be overly self-aware to act ‘in the moment’. All this cripples them socially.

So, don’t neglect this crucial piece of the puzzle. Practice your social skills (try CBT and cognitive restructuring – see my recent video for more), develop your EQ, and make sure to keep yourself grounded and spend your time with a wide variety of different types of people.

In his excellent TED talk, Steven Johsnon also suggests that most truly great ideas are often not born from one mind in those fabled ‘eureka’ moments, but rather tend to gestate over time and particularly benefit from discussion between big groups. Being able to work with others means you can ‘bounce ideas’ off them, which is often when breakthroughs happen. This is another reason that finding meaningful work with other like-minded individuals can create a particularly fertile environment for new ideas.

Truly great ideas are often not born from one mind

Young start-ups that are truly excited about what they are building are said to be in greater flow, more of the time.

The Reality Distortion Field

If you want to be highly effective at persuading and inspiring others, then work on eye contact in particular. People who met Steve Jobs and Bill Clinton describe a ‘reality distortion field’ that they seemed to generate that made nearly everyone want to impress them and do what they say.

Tim Ferriss suggests that this is something we can all learn and develop simply by practicing brief eye contact with strangers. Obviously the aim is not to creep people out with this… Check out the full blog post.

I’ve also noticed this to be the case watching Tom Cruise – who is a hugely charismatic and persuasive individual. So much so that the excellent YouTube channel Charisma On Command describes his charisma as being almost dangerous. (Fun fact: Tom Cruise was a firm favorite to play Tony Stark before RDJ came along and owned the role!)

Both Tom Cruise and Tony Stark exhibit one identical trait: a supreme and total confidence in their ability – and the knowledge that they are 100% correct. This might be why Tony Stark doesn’t second guess himself in conversation and why he seems charming rather than awkward. He’s the smartest person in the room and he knows it. And he doesn’t care what others think of him.

While you might not get to that point, having a project, a goal, or a passion – an area of expertise where you are confident – can help to give you a similar attraction, confidence, and indifference to petty office politics or social posturing. It doesn’t really matter if the neighbour has a bigger TV, or if your colleague is bitching about you if you’ve built an arc reactor in your garage!

Tony’s level egotism meanwhile makes him persuasive and inspiring, but of course it has its downsides too.

This is also where we can see a flaw in Tony Stark – who feels alone, and solely responsible for the fate of the entire world at times. Leading to sometimes tragic mistakes.

So perhaps you don’t want an ego quite as big as Tony’s. But confidence in what you do is still a necessity if you want to put your brains to good use.

Meanwhile: keep learning and absorbing as much knowledge as possible, practice using your brain to solve problems, develop your powers of persuasion, and engage in meaningful work. Then just relax and let the world-changing ideas flow.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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