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Not very clever?

The authors make an honest attempt to explain how companies should manage their most gifted and intelligent people. However, the book falls short on several counts.

Vikram Chhachhi        Print Edition: February 21, 2010

Human psychology and human capital should ideally be the perfect complement; ideally. Like body and soul. However, there could be no stranger bedfellows, especially, when the setting is an organisation. At best, most companies across the globe still probe for answers that may help them manage their most valuable and value-generating assets: Gifted people. Is that the reason why we have a proliferation of categories, theories and research around the cleverly-carved slivers of corporate human capital? Enter the "Clevers". The part-rogue, part-brilliant, non-toeing, but quasi-organisational executive, who will create most of your organisation's value in the not-too-distant future. Or so authors Goffee and Jones would have us believe.

Who are the Clevers? The authors' definition: Highly-talented individuals with the potential to create disproportionate amounts of value from the resources that the organisation makes available to them. To be fair, Messrs Goffee and Jones—both accomplished professors and Fellows of the London Business School who have earlier collaborated on the well-received book on leadership Why Should Anyone be Led by You?—have a sound case. The large part of any organisation's human capital mass does not really contribute towards growing its value substantially, save a clever few.

However, these Clevers are coded differently and display meta-organisational behaviour (while needing an organisational platform to perform), and hence have to be really managed and nurtured, and not necessarily through processes. Pretty straightforward? The book abounds in corporate examples from years of experience and research but, at times, runs the risk of diluting the definition of Clevers. Based on the definition above, would you club new molecule researchers at pharmaceutical companies and tax accountants together? I wouldn't.

The accountants are trained to advise clients on tax-efficiency and help create more shareholder value! So, if we are talking about gifted executives and managers, and a D-I-Y on how to manage them, you'll come away disappointed. However, there is no taking away the importance, and the challenges of managing Clevers, which the book addresses amply. They need to be led; you need to earn their respect; they need infrastructure and support, maybe a lot more than most of the others; You need to talk to them and sense their needs and up their motivation levels; They need convincing; They need time.

Sounds like school and the prodigy in class? Well, in some ways, yes, but it's not that simple—this is the corporate world, remember! From the plain Jane "Stars" (Aligning the Stars, Lorsch and Tierney; also HBSP), to the haloed "Firsts" (First Among Equals, McKenna and Maister), and the above par reliability of the rock solid "Outliers" (Outliers, Gladwell), and a host of others in between, we have trudged long in search of answers to managing different people, well, differently. So, while Clever makes another (narrow), but fair attempt, I would not club this tome with the others mentioned above; not yet. Especially, in the aftermath of the global economic bloodbath, which, by the way, was triggered by some Wall Street Clevers gone rogue.

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