Recently, a colleague and I had an argument at work in which he accused me of being book smart but not street smart. Certainly each quality has its merits for different situations in life, but it got me thinking: When it comes to the pursuit of a successful career, which is more valuable?
The answer to this question depends on how you define these two terms. On the surface, they simply differentiate between people who have obtained most of their knowledge from school (book smarts) and those who have developed skills and know-how outside of the academic sphere (street smarts).
However, these days the term book smart is often used in a derogatory manner, referring to those who lack common sense. In fact, the online Oxford dictionary defines being book smart as “having a lot of academic knowledge learned from books and studying, but not necessarily knowing much about people and living in the real world.”
Conversely, the term street smart is often shown in a much more complimentary light. Oxford defines a street smart person as someone who displays “the experience and knowledge necessary to deal with the difficulties or dangers of life in an urban environment.”
While this may seem unfair, it’s easy to see why more people tend to gravitate toward street smarts in this day and age.
According to an article in Forbes magazine, most of the self-made super rich people in our society, with a net worth of $500 million or more, were not honour students or valedictorians of their college. People such as Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, and Richard Branson did not need college degrees to become juggernauts in their respective industries. Rather, they rose to prominence largely through ruthless ambition and a superb ability to read people and use that to their advantage.
But despite lacking the same “cool factor,” book smarts should not be totally dismissed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, although being a disciple of book smarts doesn’t guarantee success, workers with a college degree earn nearly twice as much as those without one.
Moreover, one must take into account the fact that information, which is obtained from academic activities like reading books and doing research, is considered to be the most valuable currency in the modern techno-savvy world.
Coupled with the fact that most employers today won’t even look at your resumé unless you have a bachelor’s degree, the best approach to obtain success is to adopt a combination of both disciplines.
Street smarts and book smarts are equally important traits to the pursuit of your career, since the ability to make sense of information contained in books and documents requires formal education as well as common sense.