Customer Review

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breath of fresh air, 27 Jun 2009
This review is from: Clever: Leading Your Smartest, Most Creative People (Hardcover)
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Clever is a Harvard Business book which sets out to understand how clever people function in business, and how managers can lead them in a way which is fulfilling for both sides, and which makes the most of their potential. The crucial chapter is chapter 1, which is useful if you are short on time, which is about understanding clever people. The rest elegantly develops this.

If you've ever been trapped as a clever person under a bureaucratic manager, or as a manager trying to lead an intractable, brittle but brilliant employee, this book is a breath of fresh air.

I love Dilbert, but I also find it quite depressing: a vision of a world in which the clever are led by the managerially astute but otherwise incompetent. It's so sadly true: a corollary of The Peter Principle, that people are promoted to the position of their incompetence. In the Dilbert world, the more the pointy-haired boss goes on courses to help him become a better manager, the more he behaves in a transparently self-serving and idiotic fashion.

Clever -- leading your smartest, most creative people --, to give the book its full title, is primarily about understanding clever people, recognising their unique importance to the company, and finding ways to maximise that rather than trying (as many managers do) to suppress it. It begins with the recognition that a small group of staff make a huge impact on the bottom line, but that those staff are often the most disruptive and uncooperative.

Essentially, the clever people the book describes are not lone-wolf mavericks. They are people who need the corporation in order to make their clever ideas fly, but they are also far too clever to be taken in by the tricks the corporation uses to keep everyone in line. They are people who need explanation and persuasion, not instruction, expertise not hierarchy, outcomes not methods, boundaries rather than bureaucracies, space to learn rather than training sessions, straight talking rather than spin, and who need credit for their achievements.

To some extent, once you accept the initial premise that clever people are a category, and they are intensely valuable to the organisation, much of this seems obvious. But the authors have underpinned their thesis with widespread discussions with clever people and their leaders across both sides of the Atlantic. Naturally, this is proof by anecdote. There are no statistics or extended case studies. But, if you have ever managed intractable but talented people, or ever been one of those people and found yourself being crushed in the jaws of a corporation that doesn't seem to understand what is good for it, then this book will ring true, and you will find its insights valuable.

I shall be recommending 'Clever' widely.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Jun 2009 20:42:34 BDT
Hey Martin, interesting to see that you liked this book. I utterly, totally, viscerally hated it!

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Jun 2009 00:23:36 BDT
That is interesting. I guess I found it described exactly some situations which I'd been thinking about, but didn't have a good framework for, so it exactly met my need.

Why didn't you like it (or is that in another review?)

Posted on 27 Jul 2009 03:30:30 BDT
C. A. Austin says:
Fantastic review. I wish I'd thought of the Dilbert example (wish the authors had, too!).
Thanks :)
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