Why Pragmatic Inquiry?

Pragmatic Inquiry is a time-proven and honored way of getting beyond assumptions, providing a well-tested practice that can help you interpret your challenges in new ways.

The result of the Inquiry may be a small adjustment in plans or a complete change in direction.

Reacting to the flood of information we are confronted with daily and attempting to fit it into our existing patterns and habits of thinking requires us to assume we know what it all means.

Most information and events are signs, clues, evidence or symptoms and our interpretations of them may not be the best choice now, especially since our complex environment is always changing!

The Importance of a question: challenging what … ”you know for sure…”

Learning begins when we are challenged by an event, stop and begin to question or doubt what we know; and then we start our Pragmatic Inquiry!

We state what we know and value as assumptions which are treated as hypotheses to be tested based on our experience.  We begin to rethink our experiences, plans and what we know and value, and search for new explanations, ideas, and strategies to be tested.

The Goal

The goal of Pragmatic Inquiry is to help individuals and teams make better decisions concerning the strategy for themselves and their organizations to meet some market, society and environmental need…to help all life flourish.

The result of the Arc of Pragmatic Inquiry may be a small adjustment in plans, or a complete change in direction.

And most importantly, the goal is to uncover and ignite values and vision to drive sustainable organization performance.


Pragmatism: the meaning of ideas/thoughts/values/vision is determined by their consequences — by what actions results from them. (e.g. “By their fruits you will know them.” Bible—Matthew 7:16)

Arc of Pragmatic Inquiry®: For individual leaders (def.: change agents) and teams: A discipline/methodology/practice – uniquely rooted in the scientific method – to create an integrative, ‘values and vision’- driven strategy or plan to interrupt the future….so that all life flourishes.

Strategy or Plan: An idea for a product or service which will or is addressing some market/society/environment need, opportunity, problem or issue. It can range from the tactical as part of a job – what others want you to do – or part of a career path – what you want to do – or part of your “calling” – what you are inspired to do, your higher purpose: what you cannot not do.

Challenge/question [Cq]: Question, doubt or barrier that you face in developing and implementing your Project. It may be quickly answered. However, if the challenge is big enough, it might engage you throughout your life, as in your “calling.”

Experiential Learning: Reflect on the evidence of experience to examine and challenge the assumptions, values, vision and hypotheses driving your Project. The aim is to learn and “begin again.”

Our Values and Our Vision are what guide us as we choose and confront the problems, opportunities, issues, trends, challenges and competitive situations that face us. They are the basis guiding us to our career path, our “calling” or higher purpose.

Values Statement:

“A Value is a belief, principle or virtue held so deeply

(consciously or unconsciously)

that it guides our behavior, decisions and actions.”

Ron Nahser, PhD.

Vision Statement:

A Core Purpose defines the fundamental reason for an organization’s existence from a market, society, and environment perspective — the needs it meets (“What business are you in?”). It is based on and grows out of the Values.

A long-term aspirational Goal is not quantifiable, is highly intuitive and is used to motivate and inspire. It is based on and grows out of the Core Purpose (Includes a Vivid Description–what it will look like when we achieve our Goal.)

“Education is | not the filling of a pail, |

but the igniting of a fire.”

William Butler Yeats/Plutarch

“What is PathFinder Pragmatic Inquiry?”

“It’s Strategic Planning for individuals, as well as for organizations.”

Carolyn Woo, Dean
Mendoza College of Business
University of Notre Dame
Beta Gamma Sigma Board Meeting, June 2000

What is Pragmatic Inquiry?

Pragmatic Inquiry is a discipline/methodology/practice which aims at igniting ‘values and vision’ to drive sustainable organization performance in serving market/society/environment needs.

The PathFinder Lab Journal (“PathFinder”) serves as a guide. It offers a flexible framework of 5 phases of inquiry and 12 exercises to help you — individually or as a group — look at a situation, problem, opportunity or idea from several angles to put it in a more realistic context. With this better picture, better investment decisions can be made.

The method of Inquiry is based on Pragmatism; so-called “Classical American Philosophy.” It is an original American insight that the meaning of ideas is determined by their consequences — by what action results from the ideas. This takes us far beyond the usual misunderstanding and stance of “do whatever works” to a stance of putting ideas and beliefs – ‘values and vision’ – to the test in action. It offers the thoughtful management practitioner and student a simple, efficient way to inquire into and act on the pressing questions and challenges they have on which they must decide and act.