You are here


There are two definitionsnew of idealism relevant to strategic management. The first is the Kantian notion and the other is the more conventional current usage.

Kant's idealism --
Kant developed transcendental idealism as an alternative to realism, on the one hand, and skepticism on the other. This notion of idealism resolved the contradiction between realism (of the realist) and relative knowledge (of the skeptic) by taking aspects of each argument and holding them together in the 'both...and' way of dualism. This resolved the conflict between those who say reality is knowable, thus knowledge is 'truth', vs. those who say reality is unknowable thus all knowledge is unreliable and relative, by proposing that knowledge of appearances was real and reliable while knowledge of reality itself was indeed impossible.

Conventional idealism applied to strategy formation --

In the context of strategic management, idealism is the practice of forming and pursuing ideals. Ideals meet one's conception of what is perfect or optimally suitable. Idealism is often looked down upon as unrealistic. On the other hand, it is ideals coupled with passion and purpose that have the power to inspire, motivate, and prime the creativity of an organization in a productive and valuable direction. Idealism is part of producing a vision and the related BHAG's and strategic intent. These notions coupled with pluralism bring about the creativity and novelty needed for the innovation needed to close the gap between the current reality and the ideal.

Russell L. Ackoff on idealism (Ackoff, 1972, pp 237, 241)

The pursuit of an outcome that is known to be unattainable. People draw satisfaction from approaching states hat cannot be reached. The approach is called progress and the end-state is called an ideal.

Wise people have observed that there is more satisfaction in pursuing an end than in attaining it. Sometimes the objective in solving one problem is to create more challenging and important problems to work on. The continuous pursuit of more desirable ends is an end in itself, and hence attainment of a specific end can be conceptualized as a means to such a pursuit.

A pervasive objective of man and the social systems of which he is part, is the successful pursuit of increasingly desirable objectives. IF this is so, then it is reasonable for man and the social systems of which he is part to formulate objectives that can be pursued without end but convert the attainment of every goal into a means for the attainment of a new and more desirable goal. The ultimate objective in such a sequence cannot be obtainable; otherwise its attainment would put an end to the process. An end that satisfies these conditions is an ideal.

Ideal pursuit can provide cohesiveness and continuity to extended and unpredictable processes, to life and history. Thus, the formulation and pursuit of ideals is a means by which man puts meaning and significance into his life and into the history of which he is part. It also provides the possibility of deriving satisfaction from a life that must end but that can contribute to a history that may not.

An ideal is to an objective what an objective is to a goal. An ideal is an objective that cannot be obtained in any time period but can be approached without limit.

Implications for business design --
The implication for a system design process is to cycle through stages of idealism and realism, the idealistic stages unleash creativity and unbounded designs, while the realistic stages capture the new design and wrestle it to the ground to make it implementable, i.e. make it practical.