What is a Visionary?

Dave Pendle
7 min readNov 22, 2023

My answers to a Perspectiva Survey outlining visionary possibilities

What follows below is the bulk of my response a survey sent out by the systems, souls. society think tank Perspectiva. With the following background information;

Perspectiva was selected to work with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) to help design their new Visionaries project, as part of their Emerging Futures Programme. One of the key principles of this work is the importance of ‘harnessing collective intelligence and imagination’. In that spirit, we are excited to share with you an opportunity to contribute by offering your own intuitions, long-held wisdom, or budding ideas to the question, ‘What is a Visionary?’

This where the core of the survey begins in bold, with my brief reponses to follow;

When you hear the word visionary, who comes to mind, and why?

Please feel free to share both historical and present-day examples. They could be public figures or people from your community. This question is required.

You can write as much as a paragraph, or simply drop in a name and a corresponding characteristic — all is welcome.

Historic and Present day examples

Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Buckminster Fuller, Kurt Vonnegut, Einstein, Eric Fromm, Joe Brewer, Norah Bateson, Daniel Christian Wahl, Otto Scharmer, Victor Frankl, Teilhard de Chardin, Brian Swimme, Thomas Berry, Richard Tarnas, Dostoevsky, Paul Tillich, Maya Angelou, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi.


These figures enact and live from possible futures now and in every, moment as far as possible.They express, create and inhabit these future possibilities by acting and behaving according to, that which they have realized or intuited but may have not yet materialized.

They are highly gifted in expressing, evoking and articulating emerging new paradigms, while awakening others to their own higher potentials

They attempt to perceive, harmonize, integrate and synthesize the good,the true and the beautiful at all times in all situations.

Their senses are highly attuned to latent possibility and potential, Because they see beyond the momentary, immediate, contemporary preoccupations of the current zeitgeist.

They also have the create expressive power, to shape and form new cultures. That are generally more just, equal, fair and compassionate than the era in which they live.

Other Characteristics of Visionaries (with exemplars)

- Integrity — They sincerely endeavor to live in Integrity with their deepest values and beliefs. Heroes that sacrificed or risked their lives, often at great cost to uphold truth as they saw it.
Exemplars - Sophie Stoll/Alexei Navalny/Rosa Parks/ the Tiananmen Square protestor

- Altruism — Heroically attempt to offer healing, uplift and relieve the suffering of the overlooked, unwanted and or downtrodden.
Exemplars — Wilberforce/Schindler/Mother Teresa/Helen Keller

- Possibility — Tuned into possibility and potential, sees beyond momentary and temporary cultural preoccupations whereas their life work manifests as constant reinvention.
Exemplars — Artists Monet/ Van Gogh/Picasso/Miles Davis/Neil Young

- Integrity — Exemplifies embodies and enacts- They walk the talk. There is very close alignment between word deed and their exhortations to others.
Exemplars — Ai Wei Wei, Marina Abramovic, Brene Brown

- Profound Relationship to Self, other and universe, They enhance others capacity to fully engage with their existence;
Exemplars — Thich Nhat Hahn, Chief Phil Lane, Raman Maharshi, Dalai Lama.

-Meaning — Has a highly attuned sense of meaning and purpose, immersed in the spirit of eros. Offering a life affirmative pathways towards grace and dignity in any circumstance
Exemplars - Victor Frankl, Gabor Mate, Krista Tippett

Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

What is a visionary? And more precisely what is a visionary now?

Please tell us how you might define what a visionary is today. Is this definition different than what has been upheld as visionary in the past? If so, what is different?

Summarizing what I see as some of perennial truths underlying vision hood as outlined above, also re-expressed below;

- Proactive or Protopian acts in accordance with a future possibility as a living reality in the present moment

- Sincerely endeavors to live in Integrity with their deepest values and most profound realizations

- Attempts to perceive, harmonize, integrate and synthesize the good, the true and the beautiful, at all times in all situations.

- Is tuned into possibility and potential, sees beyond momentary and temporary preoccupations into the immaterial, the infinite, intangible and the liminal to evoke the non-ordinary into being.

- Exemplifies embodies and enacts emergent ecologies of being, knowing and doing. Inspiring others to explore these capacities in their own experience.

- Relationship to Self, other, universe and being. Encompasses a broader more inclusive, expansive and grounded relationship to everything that is, an all that fully lived life has to offer.

- Has a highly attuned sense of meaning and purpose immersed in the spirit of eros, transmitting a life affirmative presence.

Nevertheless I think a contemporary visionary inherits, many of the more recognizable perennial historical qualities of vision hood. But they now have a more complex, inclusive, scientifically, and technically informed worldview in a digital age. While she may be also fully able to cognise and respond, to the unprecedented moment of likely civilizational collapse or even extinction. Current planetary circumstances are unique and thus the nature of the visionary needs to evolve and adapt to the challenges of the moment.

Additionally the model/template of the singular visionary is becoming rapidly outdated and out grown

How might we recognise and find these visionaries given that, by their very nature, they are perhaps currently undervalued — or not even seen — in our society?

These characters have previously inhabited the margins, the fringes their pioneering instincts are threatening to the mainstream. As their living example undermines the status quo. They also do not desire, the currently accepted conventional rewards of high earnings, fame, status, or visibility or renown, this is not what drives them.

Recognising and uncovering visionaries may be down to chance, random events, or happenstance. My recommendation is not to wait for someone else to take full responsibility for the future. I suggest any individual conscious enough to complete this survey. Take on that heroic task to be the change themselves, to act from their best self, and express other possibilities that promote and enact the more beautiful world into existence. If not us, who else? There is no time for delay! If these capacities are enacted then there might be a better chance to discover, acknowledge, engage and interact, with the true visionaries and create a true visionary culture.

Additionally I think it a mistake to construe or think of individual visionaries. They have almost always emerged from a microculture of collective genius or scenius. The lone heroic, mythic male template of visionhood, is now also outmoded. Past its sell by date. Even the spiritual model of singular enlightenment, now seems too inherently flawed to meet the challenges of cultural evolution in the Anthropocene. Thus I recommend consciously creating, fertilizing and nurturing the conditions where islands of sanity can flourish. Build collective cultures that are resilient, deeply embodied and live and foster the values of a sane thrivable world.

Photo by Aedrian on Unsplash

Given that some pioneering people might not consider themselves ‘visionary’, how can we use language in a way that doesn’t prejudice the search or ‘put-off’ those who might reject the very notion of ‘visionaries’?

I would guard against seeking those ‘special’ visionaries ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered. Why not emulate the more beautiful world right now between us? Build a generative developmental culture that enables each person to thrive. To envision not only their best life, but enact the best possible collective futures now. The ability to do this requires activating the visionary potential of every member. Should that embryonic fractal be authentic, genuine, joyful and heart based, then the likely allergies people feel towards words. May be disarmed by the best lived collective life of these protopian, prefigurative microcultures.

In light of the challenge to understand visionaries and find them, what questions should we be asking?

How are we developing, nurturing, nourishing the inner awakening of our own latent potential for visionhood?

How are embodying, enacting and co-creating the possibility of the more beautiful world?

How can we support each other, to develop the capacities of spiritual wisdom, intelligence, openness and resonance that build a commonwealth of rich and diverse ecologies of being?

How are we living up to and being true to our deepest recognitions?

How are we creating microcultures where all living beings and systems can thrive?

How can we harness the opportunity of breakdown or collapse, or potential extinction to enact richer, more diverse, divergent ecological ways of being feeling and acting together?

How can we align our and harness our collective power towards the good, the true and beautiful for the good of the planet for all time?

What stands out as the core qualities characteristics and capabilities of a contemporary visionary for you? Please comment below

About the author Dave Pendle; I am synthesising almost 30 years experience in non profit enterprises with over 40 years of deep personal development experience. Passionate about enabling others’ sense of fulfillment, impact and trust, to engage wholeheartedly with inspiration and commitment to 21st century work and life. My website Generative You, explains my interests in more in depth, so do sign up for my newsletter or express and interest in my services, or share there how you best like to connect with me. I also run a monthly conversation series Phenomenal Conversations co-exploring life defining topics with pioneering changemakers who embody systemic and regenerative change in the whole life.



Dave Pendle

Navigating this civilizational moment of disruption to usher in the more beautiful world…