Street Smarts, Book Smarts, Or Both?

by Ashley Fern

I have met some of the smartest dumb people in my life because they live their lives through what they learned in school. This begs me to ask the question, which is more valuable in life: book smarts or street smarts?

Street smarts refer to the tactical knowledge you gain through experience whereas book smarts relate to what you learn in school. There are certain skills you need to become successful in life that can only be gained through experience.

Someone with street smarts is intelligent, has good common sense, and knows how to handle unfortunate situations. They let their intuition drive their behavior and are comfortable navigating through unfamiliar situations. Remember, neither Steve Jobs nor Michael Dell had a college degree, yet both were beyond prosperous.

The major distinction between the two is who lies at the center of this knowledge. Street smarts are what a person learns through their personal endeavors whereas book smarts comes from a lecture or textbook.

“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”- Fight Club

In the context of the working world, you need a combination of both to succeed, but street smarts can prove to be of greater significance. These types of people can think contextually by utilizing logic they have experienced in real life situations. I attempted to learn the metric system through classroom lessons, but honestly the only reason I know how many grams are in an ounce was through real life “activities.”

Book smarts lay at the foundation in the way you become successful but the way you develop your success revolves around street smarts. Sometimes the people who are book smart are useless when it comes to the actual job.

It is one thing to know all the technical aspects of a product you are trying to sell but it takes street smarts to relate to the customer. You need one to help and complement the other. Success cannot be solely dependent on book smarts; they only impose limits.

“It is from experiences such as mine that we get our education of life.”- Mark Twain

Someone who possesses street smarts can also have book smarts, but usually people who have book smarts only rely on their intelligence. People who possess street smarts have a greater sense of what goes socially. This is a huge advantage when dealing with people as it offers you a sense of ease. You can learn how to be book smart in school but even someone with a Harvard degree can still lack common sense.

A college degree may help to open the door to a better job, but street smarts are what allow you to succeed once you walk through that door. In order to recognize opportunities or deception, it is important to have both types of smarts at your disposal.

The more aware you are of yourself and your surroundings, the less vulnerable you are. My friends in college who had more street smarts than book smarts were the first to receive job offers upon graduating. These people know how to socialize and network to their benefit.

The ability to read people is much more advantageous in a work setting. When making an impression on employers, of course it is important to have intelligence, but the way you present yourself and your experience is what will leave a lasting impression.

Book smarts aren’t getting me out of a speeding ticket, but street smarts are, as they have multiple times. Book smarts aren’t going to help convince your professor to round your grade up to the next letter but street smarts will. It’s all about manipulation, a valuable life skill that you cannot learn or perfect in a classroom.

In my experience the only way to truly learn something is by making mistakes and failing at something. You can’t fail by reading something in a textbook or listening to a lecture. You need to go out on your own and see what works and does not work for you.

When people discuss street smarts and book smarts, it’s usually implied that you can only have one or the other. I do not believe that’s the case; people can possess both types of knowledge. The ideal situation is street smart thinking accompanied by a book smart approach. When it comes down to it which skills do you think are more valuable: what you learn in the real world or what you learn from a textbook?

Ashley Fern  | Elite.