How clever are you, my dear! You never mean a single word you say!

Oscar Wilde

Five point plans, three word slogans, infographics, buzzwords and thought leadership. We are drowning in cleverness.

There are so many different kinds of stupidity, and cleverness is one of the worst.

Thomas Mann, Magic Mountain

The cleverness gets in the way of our ability to consider complex solutions, to persist with difficult problems and to connect with others. Why do the long hard work in community to create real change when there is a simple clever solution? We would be all better to embrace the foolishness of effort, understanding and slow shared creation.

I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.

Oscar Wilde

The on-rush of cleverness also creates chatter, distraction and entertainment. We don’t have time to be present. We don’t have time to consider. We don’t have time to understand, share, & solve together. We need to ‘get the right people on the bus’, ‘start with why’, ‘embrace the problem’ ‘recognise what gets measured gets done’, ‘eat strategy for breakfast’, ‘eat our own dog food’ and by the time we add another dozen or so smart snaps the time to do work has passed.

One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.

Will Durant


I wrote recently about a recent definition of gimmicks is that they strain too hard to earn our attention. In the outrage economy, we are stuck in battles between gimmicks each demanding our time and attention and none particularly concerned about effectiveness. All that matters is the cleverness and the attention it brings.

Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists.

Cornel West

We need to start questioning the clever. Much of this cleverness is so shallow that nothing lies below the surface. The more a thought leader vehemently defends their cleverness, the weaker I consider their proposition. Absolutism works for ideologies but not valuable programs of work. Ideas that matter are rarely clever on their face, but they are tested and capable of robust and deep exposition when required. If your cleverness feels like it is supported by ‘turtles all the way down’, it is mere trumpery.

I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.

Oscar Wilde

Humans aren’t always clever. They aren’t neatly packaged. They aren’t always rational. Let’s lean into that messy dumb and engaging life of community. For all it’s tosses, turns and silences we will be better for the work.

Here we stand in the middle of this new world with our primitive brain, attuned to the simple cave life, with terrific forces at our disposal, which we are clever enough to release, but whose consequences we cannot comprehend.

Albert Szent-Gyorgi

2 thoughts on “Clever

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