Here is how I described our firm in brief:

is a group of shrewd professionals who went through myriad business situations and are passionate about understanding business objectives and solving business issues using application software and services

One of my former colleague sent me an unfriendly note saying,

people want to deal with nice professionals not shrewd ones

Does the use of the word "shrewd" in this context reflect bad people or not-nice people? If yes; please suggest alternative.

  • 1
    relevant: wise vs. shrewd
    – herisson
    Oct 17, 2015 at 11:26
  • Perhaps your former colleague got the sack for not being shrewd enough or for not knowing what the word meant. If you have to change it then try Sagacious. That will have them clammering for their dictionaries. ;)
    – Joe Dark
    Oct 17, 2015 at 11:28
  • 2
    Perceptive would be better. To me, shrewd has a (very) slight hint of underhandedness or lack of principle, which is probably not the image you want to project to clients.
    – JHCL
    Oct 17, 2015 at 11:29
  • 1
    Experienced rather than shrewd for reasons which I will try to develop in an answer.
    – John Mack
    Oct 17, 2015 at 11:40
  • If it really was an unfriendly note, I think he misspelled 'screwed'/'skewed' no offense Oct 17, 2015 at 12:38

3 Answers 3


I have a sense that shrewd simply doesn't work comfortably with 'professionals' in the context of what appears to be some kind of consultancy service. 'Shrewdness' carries overtones of cunning but more jarringly in this context, a sense of a driving for a competitive advantage. As the Oxford English Dictionary put it:

1824 Washington Irving T. Trav. II. 259 An eminent man, who had waxed wealthy by driving shrewd bargains with the Indians. 1882 J. H. Blunt Ref. Ch. Eng. II. 113 Taking shrewd advantage of the Lord Chancellor's unlucky mistake.

The question originally posed suggest that the professionals in that case are associated with some kind of business consultantcy. Shrewdness sits at odds with that role, in that the consultant is usually valued for unstintingly sharing their wisdom (or sagacity as Joe Dark admirably puts it) with the client firm. They might teach the client firm to be 'shrewd' but they are not expected to be 'shrewd' themselves in their dealings with the client firm. At least that is the way the consultancy business likes to portray itself.

Of course consultants do act 'shrewdly' in their dealings with clients, maximising their income, tailoring their advice carefully to the political as well as the business requirements of their clients, and withholding information and stretching out contracts to the best advantage of the consultant rather than the client. But the 'polite fiction' of the consultancy business is that the consultant is the 'partner' of the client and couldn't do too much to help them.

'Shrewdness' certainly struggles against an unfortunate history - one has to plough through 12 different definitions (all negative) in the Oxford Dictionary before coming to:

  1. a. In early use: Cunning, artful (obs.). Now only in favourable sense: Clever or keen-witted in practical affairs; astute or sagacious in action or speech. (The chief current sense.)
    α 1520 Calisto & Melib. in Hazl. Dodsley I. 60 Seeming to be sheep, and serpently shrewd. 1589 Puttenham Engl. Poesie iii. xxi. (Arb.) 257 Least with their shrewd wits, when they were maried they might become a little too phantasticall wiues. 1638 Junius Paint. Ancients 47 By acting sharpe old men, shrewd servants,..and all such parts as did require some noise and stirre. a 1700 Evelyn Diary 15 June 1675, His lady had ben very handsome, and seem'd a shrewd understanding woman. 1706 Stanhope Paraphr. III. 331 The Men of the World are abundantly more shrewd in the Business of it, than even Good Men are in the Management of their great and eternal Concern. 1807–8 W. Irving Salmag. (1824) 228 A shrewd old gentleman, who stood listening by with a mischievously equivocal look. 1867 Smiles Huguenots Eng. ii. (1880) 25 Palissy was..by nature a shrewd observer and an independent thinker. 1880 L. Stephen Pope iv. 102 A woman of shrewd intellect and masculine character. 1884 Tennyson Falcon i. i. 468 Lady, I find you a shrewd bargainer.
    absol. 1867 Lowell Fitz Adam's Story 360 Hard-headed and soft-hearted, you'd scarce meet A kinder mixture of the shrewd and sweet. β 1594 Nashe Unfort. Trav. B 4 b, They told the King he was a foole, and that some shrowd head had knauishly wrought on him. 1605 Chapman All Fools iv. i. H 2, Rinal. Y'aue gotten a learned Notarie Signior Cornelio. Corn. Hees a shroad fellow indeed. 1606 Shakes. Tr. & Cr. i. ii. 206 He has a shrow'd wit.
    b. Of action, speech: Cunning, artful (obs.); characterized by penetration or practical sagacity.
    1589 ? Nashe Pasquill & Marforius B 1, Whereuppon they presume to make a shrewde scruple of their obedience. 1649 Milton Eikon. xxvi. 502 The shrewdest and the cunningest obloquie that can be thrown upon thir actions. 1761 Hume Hist. Eng. II. xxvii. 120 Empson made a shrewd apology for himself. 1781 Cowper Table-T. 205 The cause..may yet elude Conjecture and remark, however shrewd. 1824 W. Irving T. Trav. II. 259 An eminent man, who had waxed wealthy by driving shrewd bargains with the Indians. 1882 J. H. Blunt Ref. Ch. Eng. II. 113 Taking shrewd advantage of the Lord Chancellor's unlucky mistake. 1884 R. W. Church Bacon iii. 59 He liked to observe, to generalise in shrewd and sometimes cynical epigrams.

Essentially what is admirable in a in a banker, political advisor, or lawyer is perhaps not quite what you want in a business consultant. What you might look for in such a service or person, and what they would be better 'selling themselves' as having, is a more generous open and collaborative approach. 'Experienced professionals' - as others have noted - is a much safer bet in the context of the original question.


Innovative is an interesting version to use. It implies cleverness and ingenuity.


It might be considered pompous and arrogant, but otherwise, I see no problem with that comment. It is not definitively pompous or arrogant, but it could be interpreted as that, but if you do not mind that, then there should be no problems with the word that you used.

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