Tony Stark

Tony Stark

If you want to earn trust as a specialist, take it from Tony Stark – show your thinking and problem-solving in action.

Published Aug 04, 2023
Reading time 5 min read

As a recovering perfectionist, I still hate failing. Yeah, it’s learning and experimenting and all that – but also, it’s a punch in the gut.

But I close my eyes until the skin gets so wrinkly, purse my lips, and hit “publish.”

Because before the act of publishing, there are hours of curious exploration and thinking (my favourite part).

Because there’s no remedy for confidence and things-working-out other than to trust your curiosity, tinker and experiment with ideas, until it resonates.

For one snarky and slightly selfish guy – Tony Stark – curious tinkering and dedication to the mission earned him trust and leadership from a world-class superhero team, even while they hated his guts (just a little). So what turned things around for Tony?

(This issue is also for my dad who stumbled onto this newsletter and translates every single email I send to Ukrainian – love you, dad! He’s the one who introduced me to Iron Man and made sure AC/DC would play every morning on my way to school 🫶)

And the story goes:

In the dry, dust-choked heart of Afghanistan, Tony Stark was held captive. Caught in the lethal crossfire of his own weapons, the genius billionaire was fighting for his life as shrapnel lodged too close to his heart.

“This is your second chance, Stark,” Dr. Yinsen whispered, installing an arc reactor in Tony’s chest.

Forced to work on a weapon for his captors, Tony made a different choice: To fight back. To repurpose the demanded weapon into a suit of armour, an Iron Man’s suit, with what he had at hand. To free himself and cease manufacturing weapons.

To protect the world instead of contributing to its destruction.

Character narrative at glance

🎞️ Story arc: From a wealthy industrialist who profited from war (countercultural in the 60s) to an egocentric genius to a selfless hero.

💭 Thinking behind: Stan Lee drew inspiration for Tony Stark (in comics) from Howard Hughes, an American business tycoon with inventive genius and adventurous spirit. Kevin Feige and Jon Favreau brought Iron Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe to tell his personal growth story and make him the backbone of the Avengers team. Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal was particularly celebrated for snarky humour and deep vulnerability.

🗺️ Narrative: Tony Stark is a character that dared you to dislike him but compelled you to root for him. His genius, resourcefulness, and stepping up as a leader drew us in.

🍋 Character deep dive: Check out the moodboard of analyses & sources I compiled.

🗺️ Mapping Out The Narrative

Yes, Tony’s demeanour, witty remarks and confidence make him entertaining. Being a billionaire with loud opinions and seemingly smart jokes brings you attention.

But memorable in the hearts of the audience? I'll let you decide on that.

For Tony Stark, it’s not just attention-baiting for the sake of it: He earns our trust as a leader gradually. He delivers on his intentions and promises. Even with limited resources at hand, Tony puts people and his mission above himself and iterates until the problem is solved.

How is it related to branding? Because branding bridges the gap between what you think of yourself and how people actually see you.

Tony is an innovative genius, he wants to save the world. Would people trust him to do so and be the leader (for humanity & Avengers) if he remained a “merchant of death” and war profiteer? Absolutely not.

Tony earns trust by leading in the way that follows a bigger-than-himself mission and solves problems that bring value to the people.

Let me give you a few examples:

Tony’s approach in taking action is “test to improve rather than to prove.” Whatever he creates is there to serve a specific purpose, in a specific challenge – take the creation of the first Iron Man suit. He didn’t obsess over an iron suit per se, it was a viable and original solution to the problem of protecting him (and keeping him alive) and getting out from captivity unharmed.

Later on, Tony collected signals to improve the final “punch”: It wasn’t about adding yet another feature (like a new gun or something) but about solving specific problems (like developing a team of Iron Men for a purpose of security and “fighting like a team” approach). The downside to the approach is when by solving one problem he introduces yet another and bigger one – like Ultron, an artificial intelligence gone rogue.

Tony’s approach in taking action purposefully and in the way that solves the problem made him a better leader – the one whom people trust.

🍋 Navigating To Your Brand

The caveat of branding: Even if you don’t actively do it, people still develop impressions and perceptions of you, based on your actions.

Like with Tony Stark, do it intentionally – and let your actions speak louder than words.

(You still need words though, they help you communicate and market yourself, but a smartie like you knows it without me.)

Let’s get practical:

Figure out one minimal viable option to a current challenge of your people – and deliver just that.

Why? It brings you closer to your people.

  • They pick up signals that you might be the right person to help them out with their challenges.
  • They recognise you as someone with expertise, a leader.

How? Take a pen and paper and answer these three questions:

  1. What’s the problem? (Go for something minimal: Look for questions people ask you in private or public, hang out where they are and observe what concerns them – just remember: No one thinks in “How do I scale my business 10x” and wait for your one-of-a-kind-solution; but they rather think of “I spend too much time with clients / writing content / choosing colours” and so on)
  2. What resources do I have at the moment? (Resources are your skills, capabilities, ideas, and even your availability)
  3. How can I put it together to solve this problem? (Go for something you can build and externalise quick – you need feedback, you need your people to interact with it, touch it, and let you know what they think)

What’s the result? Deeper relationship with your people and a bit more space in their mind.

Because it’s not just about the iron suit; it’s about the person behind it.

Mariia looking in the camera, with her cat Resi behind her.
Shooting my shot at this experimentation thing: Earlier this week I asked you about the most useful thing you take away from this newsletter – if you still have any thoughts or feedback for me, I’d appreciate it a lot.
Seeing Through Stories

Navigate the world of brand strategy, every Friday

Every week, I will send you a TV or book character breakdown and what made them iconic – and how you can apply those insights to your creator brand.