Acting with Vision or Acting Pragmatically? (or Both?)

“Do I go for my vision or do I take pragmatic moves?”

This dualistic question has come up for me quite frequently recently, and I seem to always find a voice advocating strongly for one of these options. “Act realistically, and think about you can actually achieve” say some of my pragmatic friends. “Dream big and  the details will fall into place” say some of my visionary friends. Though theoretical to some degree, these organizing “worldviews” shape the way we act for change in our modern world.

Now I look to how to combine the best elements of the pragmatists and the visionaries.




Pragmatism is what I call the “moving without tripping” approach, meaning that one should look at the currently available paths and find the one that seems to be the most feasible given current constraints/opportunities. Pragmatists, at least in the organizing context, focus on current conditions and endeavors to make the most out of them possible. In general, ideology is not as important as achieving realistic accomplishments for pragmatic methodologies.

While being realistic is undoubtedly necessary, we often do not know what is possible (i.e. we can achieve more than we think). Thus, pragmatic steps can miss whole new opportunities that seem far-fetched and play more into the “status quo.”



Photo: getolympus via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: getolympus via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Visioning is what I call the “moving towards the stars” approach, meaning that one should look for the highest potential and aiming for paths that create completely new futures. Visionaries, at least in the organizing context, focus on future conditions and how to make them reality. In general, practicality is not as important as ensuring significant changes occur in peoples’ lives.

While keeping our dreams in our plans must continue to be done, that does not mean that we can act as if that dream can be made swiftly or easily (i.e. change is not impossible, but it can be difficult). Therefore, visionary modes should take care to “sweat the small stuff” and have tangible goals to reach their visions.


Visionary Pragmatists or Pragmatic Visionaries


The reason this spectrum between vision and pragmatism to be so essential is that it strongly influences our plans, goals, strategies, timelines, and underlying beliefs behind what changes can be made. For myself I’m not sure if I would call myself a “Visionary Pragmatist” or a “Pragmatic Visionary;” however, to me the term matters much less than capturing the best spirit of both to accomplish what needs to be done.

By combining the best of both the pragmatic and visionary worlds, we can be effectively “moving towards the stars, without tripping.” Plan visionary until you get to your immediate pragmatic steps (i.e. plan backwards from the vision), but always keep the dream in mind as you go forward. The current context should never be used as an excuse to avoid stretching our beliefs of what is possible.

By Drew Serres

Drew Serres began working on Organizing Change to combine his dedication to showing impactful organizing practices with his passion for learning. Find out more about him at the About Page and see his updates on Twitter and Google+