Visionairies vs. Pragmatists

We’ve all been in the meeting where one person is arguing for maintaining the status quo while someone else is arguing for sweeping change, and neither are able to see eye to eye.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s label the status quo people as “pragmatists” and the sweeping change folks as “visionaries.” According to Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm, once we understand where they’re coming from, we can craft an approach for making progress with each of them independently, even if not eye to eye.

Let’s break them down:

Both pragmatists and visionaries feel that they’re smarter than the other. In many cases, this is engrained by experience if not an outright genetic disposition. Step one is, therefore, to just avoid them going head to head on any major issues.

Pragmatists value vertical structures (that’s MBA speak for up and down a supply chain). They understand the world as it appears today, in the basic math of A plus B equals C. They like tangible things.

Visionaries value horizontal structures (that’s MBA speak for left and right across industries, or multidisciplinary). They think if the word in the future, focusing on math that is influenced by future potential variables. They understand the world to be ever evolving, and therefore think in the math terms of X times Y equals Z. They like intangible or conceptual things.

Generically, pragmatists loathe change and visionaries crave disruption. Those core differences are the primary sources of the stress mentioned above.

In order to play to both sides, or exist in the middle if we think of them on a continuum, we have to make separate appeals to their inherent DNA. Every job is a marketing job.

For a new idea, we have to present a pragmatist with a way the old methods will be able to gain efficiency through implementation. Pragmatists want to minimize the feelings of change. For a visionary, we want to nearly do the opposite and maximize the feeling of change. Visionaries want to see us reinvent the supply chain or bring a whole new way of thinking about the process with respect to some future assumption.

For example, let’s say we’ve come up with a new sales tracking mechanism. If presenting to a pragmatist, emphasize the simplicity of adding it to the process, and the efficiency to be gained. If you can’t make it that easy, you’ll never get it done. If presenting to a visionary, be sure to suggest the future optionality that the new mechanism offers. Perhaps it will work for current sales, but also open the door for the sales you expect to transition towards in the coming months/years, and even enable that shift. Market towards their DNA.

The best of us can mix the two fluidly, and make risk-based assessments of what is called for at the time. This is hard, but it’s a learnable skill.

It also helps to remember that we’re each naturally in one camp or the other, so “know thyself” first.  By practicing how to think in both ways, we can become more comfortable with existing in middle and marketing ideas to even the most extreme pragmatist or visionary.

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