“It has generally been assumed that of two opposing systems of philosophy, e.g., realism and idealism, one only can be true and one must be false; and so, philosophers have been hopelessly divided on the question, which is the true one.”

Morris Raphael Cohen


“Words without actions are the assassins of idealism.”

Herbert Hoover



Ok. I believe every business has an ambition. In fact. I believe every business has different ambitions all at the same time – money, morals, size, Purpose, etc, or simply have one focus ambition. That ambition can come in any size. It is theirs and they hope to attain it or aspire to reach it. That said. I am a pragmatic hope guy. I clearly love instilling hope as part of any business, or Life, vision, but don’t believe in any aspect of false hope. As I have written before while false hope is maybe slightly better than no hope at all, hope should be treated carefully.

To me.

All hope to me should be grounded in some sense of pragmatic and reality.

I, frankly, don’t understand when people suggest you cannot have both.

I, frankly, don’t understand when people suggest you cannot have both idealism and realism.

I, frankly, don’t understand when people suggest you shouldn’t have aspects of both hope & pragmatism, possibilities and pragmatism and idealism & realism.

We should want both AND demand both. It is reaching for the stars and reaching realistically. It is keeping your feet in the clouds and, yet, head on the ground.

But that’s how I think.

I think you can both be idealistic and realistic.

I think it is possible to offer a sense of a difficult/challenging path forward without creating a larger sense of ‘doom or Armageddon’ to create the sense of urgency which we often deem necessary in order to inspire real action.

And, inevitably, that is what this is all about.

How to inspire people not just to inspire but to take action?

How to inspire larger ideas and larger actions?


This is a tightrope all business people walk.

The difficulty on this tight rope is that there will always be people debating, and criticizing, while you walk on this tight rope. They will argue whether the ambition is big enough. They will argue whether the ambition isn’t small enough. They will argue we need more radical change. They will argue we need less radical change. Shit. They will argue we need no change moving forward, but rather reverse some of the changes made.

And you know what?

Some of that, in all of that, is right. Some of the past is awful and some of the decisions we will make for the future, and in the future, will be awful. Conversely, some of all of that will, well, not be awful.

To suggest that there are easy answers or that the steps forward are clear and simple is stupid. Stupid & foolish.

Just to be clear. Within the “Idealism and Realism” debate can be found in the constructive decision which any leader tries to find their own course in leading. We debate all of this shit in our own heads and then we debate it in conference rooms and boardrooms every week.

We are responsible for past decisions and, yet, try to unburden ourselves so that we can make progress.

Simplistically, just because I <maybe> made an awful decision in the past doesn’t mean I will make an awful decision in the future.

Simplistically, just because I maybe offer a hopeful idealistic decision for the future doesn’t mean it is a realistic decision for now.

Simplistically, just because I try and slow everybody down on some idealistic discussion shouldn’t suggest I am any more ‘canny or wise’ than everybody else let alone the person who offers the idealistic hope that people may gravitate toward — it just suggests that maybe I am trying to balance it all with reality <and maybe incorporate the fact that, pragmatically, I would like to incorporate some possibilities for people today & tomorrow>.


I will suggest, no, I will tell you the harsh truth getting good shit done within ANY size ambition is hard.

Getting shit done means balancing overreach and under reach.

Balancing possibilities and pragmatism.

Balancing idealism and realism.

Balancing the practical and the hope.

Balancing what people think they want and what they need.

Balancing the majority and the minority. Balancing what is good for one and good for all.

Anything less than that is oversimplification.

Oh. Shit. And then there is context. One can never lose sight of context.

You have to balance the idea, the hopefulness of ‘what could be’, against pragmatically where you have been <what has happened if not what has just happened> as well as where you are.

It is incredibly simplistic to suggest any past decision should be compared to a decision you will make. Just as it would be incredibly simplistic to judge a business leader if they were to take over a large company which was truly heading into a shithole versus a company which had some problems but was, in general, businesswise healthy.

Every transition has its own singular issues. Every situation has its own singular issues. Every business has its own singular issues. And, let’s be clear, every one of those situations has singular problems.

We should all recognize that in the overall life cycle of business problems and opportunities, practical and possibilities, hope & despair, heroes & villains, will appear in different forms – all with the intent to either further our ambitions or steal our ambitions.

This is not cynical, this is … uhm … reality

Whoever becomes a business leader is going to deal with navigating pragmatism and idealism mostly by assessing the problems, or obstacles, to your ambition.

Harping on whatever those problems doesn’t really get you anywhere.

They are what they are.

I could also argue that arguing over idealistic ideas and vision without admitting some pragmatism and practicality doesn’t really get you anywhere. It is not a binary discussion nor are pragmatism and possibilities, idealism and practical, are mutually exclusive.


“Idealism increases in direct proportion to one’s distance from the problem.”

John Galsworthy


Look. We all hate cynicism, but far too often we confuse it with pragmatism and practicality. I would also suggest we all get tired of pragmatism because, well, far too often it sounds small.

But I would also point out that we all not only get tired, but absolutely unequivocally hate, false hope and unrealized idealism. “Large” unrealized equals zero, nothing, nada. People don’t like a zero, nothing, nada no matter how large the zero, nothing, nada is.

Neither option, looked upon in isolation, is attractive or likeable.

And you know what? A good leader knows all of this. And they do their best to walk the tight rope. They sit down and assess what you have, assess what they could have, assess resources, money, whatever, and figures out, pragmatically, how to get going doing the business of doing business – that desires to attain that ambition.

They may not always get it right and they may not always get done whatever is needed to get done to alleviate the problems, or all the problems, that exist in the here and now. But I would point out that, realistically, you can never alleviate all problems and that problems exist, contextually, no matter if an idealist or a realist, a pragmatist or a ‘possibilities driven’ leader, a hope or a practical leader steps in. The only constant is that problems existed to be addressed, exist to address and will exist to address all to eventually be solved ONLY if both idealism & pragmatism and possibilities & the practical are embraced.

Not accepting that as a business truth is foolish.

Not accepting that as a business truth is, in fact, lazy thinking.

Any business ambition demands both idealism and pragmatism. The idealism is the spark of possibilities and imagination while the pragmatism stops you from simply being a ‘dreamer’ or wasting resources tilting at windmills.

Maybe, just maybe, we should be sitting back and thinking about how you can both be idealistic and realistic.

In the end.

I hate almost all binaries but choosing between pragmatism and idealism is the most distasteful to me.

Every business deserves both idealism & realism, possibilities & pragmatism and grander hopes of individual significance. Every business deserves to think, and believe, it can matter – in its family, neighborhood, community, city, state, country or global. Whatever their ‘mattering ambition’ is they deserve the intrinsic motivation found in that ambition – while grounded in some pragmatism.

Once again, let me say, maybe, just maybe, we should stop embracing just idealism or just realism and see that optimizing the combination is the path to optimizing the future. And while I typically dislike optimizing (it often feels like compromising) maybe, just maybe, in this case, we should all go into the optimizing business.


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Written by Bruce