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Are You a Visionary or an Opportunist?

Some people are visionaries, while others are opportunist. Which one are you? After listening to the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series, I thought I’d open my thoughts on the subject of visionaries and opportunists.

Photo courtesy of: graur razvan ionut


The Oxford Dictionary defines opportunism as “the practice of looking for and using opportunities to gain an advantage for oneself, without considering if this is fair or right.” I’m not sure moral rationale should be part of the definition, and therefore it can be simplified as “An opportunist is someone that finds and takes advantage of opportunities.” Does that sound like you?


Unlike an opportunist, a visionary not only finds opportunities, but they are able to sustain a vision – a direction. A visionary is able to differentiate between opportunities of the moment and sustainable opportunities for the future. A visionary is an opportunist, but a opportunist is not a visionary.

What’s the difference and why care?

If you’re always seeking opportunities without a vision, you’re going to be behind and on the back-beat of the future/industry. Trying to keep up with the pack is not nearly as fun as being chased.

  • An opportunist feels the temptation to take all opportunities that come their way.
  • Opportunists see the current opportunity as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, while visionaries know that there are many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
  • A visionary is confident that their vision won’t be hindered by masquerading opportunities that will inevitably take them off course.
  • Essentially, a visionary is able to differentiate between the opportunities that benefit the vision and those that detour it.
  • Opportunists are often lost when an opportunity is fulfilled and motivated by new opportunity rather than confidence in a solid direction.

‘Visionary’ is a a buzz word and if you’re like me, you probably thought a visionary was someone that changes the world. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. We can all be visionaries. All it takes is a direction and a vision (a focused idea) rather than an opportunistic path of leaping from one open door to another. Jim Collins in “Good to Great” states that ‘disciplined people, who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action’ can become great. This greatness, I believe, equates to the transition from opportunist to visionary.

With social media so prominent and news at our fingertips, constant distraction is inevitable. If you’re keen on keeping up with the latest and greatest, it’s clear that opportunity is everywhere. It’s not a question of whether there will be opportunities, but rather how we can leverage them to be an accelerator instead of a distraction.

Bringing it home

All of this may sounds like common sense, but chances are you’re more likely an opportunist than a visionary. Otherwise, we’d all be incredibly successful, focused, hardworking, happy and driven – and we know that’s not the case. I’m sure you’ll witness some of my own opportunistic tendencies scouring my blog. So before thinking “Of course I’m a visionary”, reflect on whether you’re motivated by opportunity over direction, feel like you’re a step behind rather than steps ahead, and whether you’re doing something sustainable. The first step to any transition is acknowledging where you need to transition from.

Questions: What is your definition of visionary/opportunist? As an individual,  team member, organization, boss or worker, are you an opportunist or a visionary? Has it helped or hindered you/work/life/business? Do you have a clear direction for where you’re headed? How did you get there? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Tristan

    This really hits home, thanks :0)

  • Shari

    I’m definitely a visionary and not an opportunist, but living in Hollywood I have to deal with a lot of opportunist friends who Constantly try to take ideas. Way lame..

  • Ralph David Medici

    I’ve been called an opportunist – not sure what it means but I’m a singer.

  • Jolenr

    This is a rewarding and inspiring post. 🙂

  • thisGuyJustmakesUpStuffnUbeliv

    It’s not up to decide what an oppurtunist is. That’s the defenition of the word. To be an oppurtunist is to lack integrady. Take advantage of an opportunity without regards to others .

    • Thanks for the feedback! There’s of course different definitions to the word. I’m not sure my definition includes anything about lack of integrity or doing things without regards to others. In this article I use a more general definitions: “Opportunists are people who see a chance to gain some advantage from a situation.” It can come at the expense at others, but doesn’t have to.

    • Ferni Para

      I can’t agree more with thisGuyJustmakesUpStuffnUbeliv.

      “There’s of course different definitions to the word.” Nop. This is false.

      definition an opportunist wants to take advantage of situations
      regardless of integrity. (Unless he wouldn’t be an opportunist.)

      In real life (almost) everyboby want to get and use opportunities.

      What differentiate an opportunist from the others is opportunities first. Integrity, Morality, etc.. second.

      I am not saying this is good or bad. It depends of point of view.

  • Notdadoctor

    In comparison to a couple of friends, this article clarified their characteristics. Im confident in knowing how to relate to them in the future. I’m happy to say neither of them are sociopaths. Thanks

  • Jen

    How do I put this in a nice way. Every Chinese person I have ever met was a cold blooded opportunists who sought to follow the standards of “Filial Piety rather than rely on their own resources and hard work to get the job done. They are bloodsuckers who feed off the resources of others and than abandon you as soon as things go wrong.

    • dynamix

      Mmmmrooik?? You mean the resources of others outside their pious circle of affiliation. That could be seen as loyal and resourceful. What do you mean by things going wrong?nn1

  • Ris

    I’ve recently seen the image that says, “While the pessimist, optimist, and realist were discussing the contents of the glass, I drank it! – Opportunist” and I have been wondering if I am an opportunist. Utilizing Google for the answer, I came across your article. I really enjoyed it! Cleared a few things up, but also made me more confused about myself. I have both the opportunist and visionary qualities you’ve described. I generally am very intuitive and know whether or not something will benefit me.. But sometimes I take crazy weird opportunities even though they have nothing to do with my future. Because of certain opportunities I’ve taken, I’m on more of a time crunch with my future plans.

    • Leigh Goodwin

      Interesting self- awareness. How are you overcoming the time crunch?

  • Leigh Goodwin

    Insightful article. You made some profound points about the consequences associated with being an Opportunist. This could explain some of the passion related issues and difficulties faced by people at a career or business impasse; good to know rather than berate a defenseless person. For those who acknowledge Psychological developmental stage impact on career or business passion childhood experiences might also be a contribiting factor explaining why a person is either a visionary or an opportunist. I like that a Visionary can be an opportunist. Too bad for the downside of opportunism.

  • Shariful

    I’m a visionary man, ….!

  • Tracy Sohl

    Just happened upon this article today. I believe that you can be a visionary and not an opportunist. A visionary is one that can see the opportunities. An opportunist is able to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself. I think an opportunist is always a visionary, but a visionary may not be able to be an opportunist. I think your definiton of visionary is blurred, not your definition of an opportunist. A visionary sees opportunities but may not act on any of them. An opportunist wouldn’t be able to take advantage of opportunities if he/she weren’t able to invision them; no matter how short term the vision may be. It is the difference between seeing and doing. Visionary sees; Opportunists do.

    • Hi Tracy,

      Thanks for the great comment. Personally, I think it’s the opposite (as mentioned in the post). In my mind, a visionary is someone that’s seeing beyond what’s in front of them (the opportunity). Opportunities are things that are presented – not envisioned. For example, if someone came to me and said, “I have 30 shirts that I need help selling, but I need a website – can you build one for me so I can sell them?”. I could take that opportunity and build the website for that person – therefore, being an opportunist. Instead, if I were a visionary I would understand that prior to anyone approaching me – that people who sell t-shirts probably need a website to sell them on and therefore I could envision a place to sell tshirts online and thus create it. The vision goes beyond the single opportunity and can happen prior to anyone bringing up the opportunity. Does that make sense? So, my definition is that both opportunist and visionaries “do”, but visionaries don’t have to wait for an opportunity to present itself to make it happen. Call it a visionary or something else – the idea is that it’s important to have a clear vision that’s sustainable beyond the brief opportunity that one might take advantage of if they want to create something that lasts.

    • Tracy Sohl

      I understand what you are saying. The point I am trying to make is that a person can envision an opportunity and not act on it. People come up with great ideas all the time but don’t act on it. The opportunist acts on his/her visions. You can have a vision and not act, but you can not act without the vision. Another thing is that people have opportunities infront of them and don’t see them. Only visionaries see opportunities. First you must be a visionary and see the opportunities. Second you must act on the opportunities.

      You stated that an opportunist just waits around for opportunities to present themselves and then acts upon them. Maybe some opportunists do that, but I think the majority of opportunists do not. That would be sitting in one place and letting fate feed them. I see opportunist more as hunter and gatherers. They go out into the world tracking opportunities and change direction as needed; more of a jack of all trades versus an established career man.

      In your example, you stated that you would only be an opportunist because you seen an opportunity to make money by building a website for someone who needed it. I say that you were a visionary by learning to build websites so someday you may have the opportunity to build a website for profit. If you didn’t have the vision of someday needing the knowledge to build websites, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to build one for profit.

      I think the person you are describing (visionary) is long-term focused while the secondary person (opportunist) is short-term focused. You are talking more about focus in your article. Opportunists take a spray approach to life goals, while the person you are writing about takes more of a laser approach. The opportunist changes trajectory and zig-zags through life, while your person takes a straighter more direct approach to life. But they are both visionaries, they just get there by different routes. 🙂

    • That’s a great follow up Tracy. For me, when originally writing this at least, I’m really talking about people who execute. So, the difference between an opportunist who executes vs. a visionary who executes. So, I’m kinda of ruling out those who aren’t executing. I could of communicated that better in the original article.

      In terms of my example, you’re making the assumption that I learned to develop websites to so that I may have the opportunity to build a website for profit. Even if that were true, I think that is far too general to be a visionary. If I learned to ride a bike for fun, and then someone came to me and said “I need someone to deliver newspapers for me” – that again is an opportunity I could cease and make money; I didn’t mean I learned to ride a bike to make money or that I envisioned that happening one day. On the other hand, yes – if I saw that newspaper delivery on foot was very inefficient and therefore I created a device to more efficiently deliver newspapers by learning to ride a bike, then yes – that’d be visionary. It’d mean a clear vision for the future was created. The difference is, for an opportunist – once the single opportunity is over they can’t necessarily envision how to sustain it and often move on to the next opportunity. While on the other hand, someone who has a vision for the future doesn’t need the outside mechanism needed to sustain that vision.

      I don’t look at both of them as visionaries – again I do think visionaries are opportunist (meaning they execute and can see opportunities), but I don’t believe opportunist alone are visionaries for the points mentioned above. It’s not so much about longevity as it is about being able to create or envision a path (visionary) vs. wait for an opportunity to arise (an opportunist).

      Great discussion!

    • Tracy Sohl

      This is a great discussion. Your explaination is very enlightening. I think your definition of an opportunist is accurate. However, I see you define visionaries as people that can create or envision a path. I define visionaries as only envisioning not creating. I think the creating part comes from another descriptive. That is what defines motivated visionaries from non-motivated visionaries. Sometimes in companies there is the “idea guy”. He/she is the visionary and their vision is implimented by another or others. Sometimes the visionary does the implimentation themselves. I think this is the person you are speaking of in your article (a person who envisions and creates a path forward). I think this person is more than just a visionary. I am not sure what word should be used to describe this person, but I think a visionary is just one step below this descriptive.

      Thank you for your insight! 🙂

  • Richard Ruby

    I have an idea for a magnificent, large scale engineering project that would not only have benefits, but of a design that would also make it a sightseer’s dream, or more properly speaking, a tourist attraction like no other. Also an idea against climate change, against sea level rising, against global warming, an idea for electricity generation that would make an economic breakthrough, an idea for gun laws, and an idea for a protection program. I could explain how they work if I needed to in order to put them into effect, but I am not successful. So I’m intelligent, but not successful. I know there are a number of possibilities as to why that is. But if visionaries have to also be successful in order to fit the definition, then why do words that have ‘vision-‘ in them, often only mean ‘to picture in one’s mind-‘ or ‘to see-‘, with success not included in the definition?