Impractical idealism vs practical realism

Impractical idealism and practical realism: another of those mutually supportive antitheses united against an inconceivable possibility of a practical ideal that creates a new reality.

Impractical idealism plays the Alan Colmes to practical realism’s Sean Hannity, proving the suspicion that new ideals are essentially impractical and unrealistic because those who conceive them are unconcerned with what is possible and what is currently the case.

Practical realism sets itself up as the only possible alternative to such silliness, becoming the tough-minded champions of preservation of what has been established, or of expertly playing an absurd game one is powerless to change, or of making the humblest progress possible, and rejoicing in the very humbleness of the world’s possibilities.

And practical realism presents such a depressing image of smug complacence that anyone with a soul is repulsed. Faced with a choice between the practical realist’s mediocrity and sheer fantasy will choose fantasy and be tempted to make a display of principled quixotism or of making the most ludicrous truth-claims or obvious evasions.

Anyone intent on doing something new must not ally with either of these camps. We cannot be stupidly emotional and lose our concern for where we are, how we can move beyond it and what we can expect from our destination. But if we fail, we should not become champions of mediocrity invested in the belief that real change is impossible. Such stances are adopted by those fear that the impossibility of change lies not in the world but in their own impotence, and so they dedicate themselves to creating a world where nobody can succeed. And that is a shame because it is exactly those who are tempted to crush hopes who could help others bring hopes to fruition if they were willing to play their proper part, which is execution.


A word about execution.

Notice, every organization is run by people known as executives.

By definition, the executive role executes. “1. a person with senior managerial responsibility in a business organization; 2. the person or branch of a government responsible for putting policies or laws into effect.”

But execute what? That is where everything falls apart.

It is not enough for executives to know how to execute. They are also expected to come up with the plan. And just having a plan is not enough. It has to be an inspiring plan.

Executives are expected to have vision.

But is this a realistic expectation? — In fact it is a prime example of an impractical reality that most people stubbornly cling to.

Executives nearly never have vision – at least not one of their own. Executives are much less concerned with changing reality, after all, this reality already put them in a sunny corner office on the top floor of a skyscraper. What’s not to like?

What executives really want is something to execute. Any plan that will enable them to show off their powers of execution will do. A sprinkle of innovation is enough, if it produces the quantitative evidence of  executive awesomeness.

But no executive will admit this. Why? Because execution is only glamorous if what is executed is a vision.

But nobody wants to execute someone else’s idea. That feels like being a servant.

So executives present themselves as visionaries who happen to be able to get things done.

But what an executive calls “vision” is rarely vision. Sometimes it’s a goal. Sometimes it is ambition that galvanizes the whole company. Or electrifying enthusiasm. Usually, it’s just a plan. Whatever it is, it is draped with vague superlatives, buzzwords and snazzy graphics and presented as the vision. Look closer, though, and you will see practical realism candy-coated with impractical idealism.

If you want to know why corporations are so abysmally dull this is why: executives would rather do without meaning than to accept meaning from anyone besides themselves.


One thought on “Impractical idealism vs practical realism

Leave a Reply