The authors pause to consider the term they chose for the title of this book: in the US, "clever" has some negative connotations about being crafty and overestimating one's intelligence - but on their side of the pond, it simply means being skilled and talented. They chose to keep the term because clever people in the British sense often tend to get clever in the American sense. It's part of the package.

Most organizations have clever people, and seek to gain as many of them as they can. Clever people are innovative and efficient, and they are the ones who contribute the greatest value to an organization. So companies want all the clever people they can get, but are not particularly good at managing them once they have them.

In the modern company, workers are problem-solvers. The software programmer, pharmaceutical researcher, investment banker, tax accountant, and others are not the mindless hands that carry out the orders of others, but people hired for their thinking ability who very often figure out what needs to be done in addition to being responsible for doing it.

The problem with managing clever people is that there is not a long history to draw upon. Until only recently, the entirety of human management has at best regarded workers as semi-intelligent oxen, to be yoked in, controlled, and directed. This can still be done, but it is not the best approach to gaining the benefit of their knowledge and the intelligence for which they were hired.

This book is meant to guide managers in unleashing the remarkable potential of clever workers.

Clever Head Turning

The authors insist that the clever people are likely the most valuable people an organization has. Everyone else depends on them to come up with the ideas that drive the organization forward. Those who supervise them and those who do the work to carry out their ideas are both far easier to replace.

However, both of these other groups have the ability to hinder the clever people, to prevent them from coming up with ideas, or to prevent their ideas from being carried out, or to execute their ideas poorly. So the relationship is not one-sided, but entirely symbiotic. Without good leaders, the clever people cannot realize their full potential. Without the rest of the organization, the ideas of clever people never get off the drawing board.

For those leaders, the task is to corral a group of smart and creative individuals, inspire them to achieve their fullest potential in a way that creates shareholder value. They cannot be threatened or bribed into applying their intelligence and creativity, and "inspire" has always been a vague directive. But there still remains a need for managers to motivate employees, keep them engaged, tend to their morale, and direct their effort toward a productive goal.

The authors suggest that traditional approaches have it all backward. When leading clever people, it is not about making people more valuable to the organization, but making organizations more valuable to people. This is a substantial change that requires leaders to appreciate that clever people have a symbiotic relationship with their organizations.

Clever people need the infrastructure and resources of an organization to develop their ideas as much as the organization needs their ideas to develop value.

Unleashing the power of clever people demands a change in leadership - in particular, leaders are no longer the driving force for progress. They do not carry the proverbial ball, but select and coach the individuals who will do so. The leader is not the star, but the star-maker of the present day organization.

Shifting Strands

The authors concede that, while many of the ideas expressed in this book are fundamental changes to long-established patterns of behavior, many of them are not new. The very same problems have been faced in various times in history and the basic issues are formulated in "classic sociological theory."

The problem with "work" from the very beginning of time has been how labor and material, which represent the potential to produce, could be applied in a manner to generate something of genuine value. Most textbooks on economics seen to acknowledge that such a thing is possible, but they ignore the fundamental question and instead give their greatest attention to the incidental details: a factory happens to be necessary, workers happen to be necessary, ships and roads happen to be necessary - all as a consequence of the root transformation.

The traditional approach to "labor" is similar to the traditional approach to livestock. Workers must be directed and motivated to do the menial tasks necessary to produce value. But the clever people do the inspirational work, discovering how value is created. They are often self-directed and self-motivating, though a leader may need to channel their energy. Organizations that leverage clever people well tend to shun the rigid control systems of established firms in industries that are still doing the same "business as usual" that they were doing decades or centuries ago.

Clever people are smothered by bureaucratic organizations and struggle against standardization and control. They (rightly) feel their work is unique and that they need latitude. Their sense of accomplishment is not based on piece-count, but in meaningful work, and they are most gratified by seeing their ideas put into action.

Wholly, Humbly Happy

The authors maintain that "leading clever people is one of the greatest challenges facing organizations today." It requires leaders to humbly step out of the limelight, and to fight for their people rather than struggle to control them. They admit that it is grandiose to claim that clever people hold within themselves the solutions to global problems that impact large numbers of people in significant ways - but it is nonetheless true.

Nothing great or even substantial was accomplished by doing menial tasks more efficiently. The wondrous accomplishments of mankind all began with an idea in the mind of a clever person, and an organization (whether a company or a nation) that was poised to act upon it.

Reading Clever

Some comments on the structures of the book.