Street Smarts-Do You Have Them?

As long as you keep your wits about you, you too can be Street Smart — on and off the streets

A thief looks at two houses on a street — both are large and well-kept, so he is assuming there are great steals in both houses. Both are dark and empty — all the neighbors are at a block party down at the end of the street. Both houses are exactly the same — except that the house on the right has an alarm system, and the house on the left does not. Which house do you think this thief is going to go for?

Same thing for muggers. Do you think a mugger is going to go after someone walking confidently, paying attention to her surroundings, aware of where she is going? Maybe, but he’d more likely go for the person shuffling along; wearing heels so high they’re hard to walk in, let alone run in; distracted on a cell phone; scanning a map worriedly.

Call it awareness; call it survival skills; call it Street Smarts. Whatever you call it — have it!

Street Smarts is not just for keeping you safe –it is an essential business tool. Street Smarts-borne skepticism will allow you to negotiate will ease and skill.

For example, once I was in negotiations for a project with a publishing company about my royalties. From conversations with colleagues, I knew that 3% was an accepted target, so that is what I went in expecting. I could tell right away that these guys were people I could joke around with, so my first offer was 50% — which made the publishing guys look at each other, speechless, before they started laughing. So, they countered me at 10%! I guess they thought I was serious. So, I paused, moved my head back, and squinted, really considering their offer. “Hmmmm, is that fair?” I asked. After much deliberation and some hesitation, which made them feel better that they were playing hardball, I accepted their offer. I walked out of that office ecstatic. I got 10% royalties just because I was able to use my Street Smarts to analyze the situation and interpret the best way to approach it.

“In any pursuit in life there is a formal knowledge base and an informal knowledge base. The formal knowledge is what you are told. It is what you get in the manual when you start a job. It is what you get in the course work in college. Informal knowledge is everything they do not bother to tell you. Moreover, usually that is the stuff that makes the most difference. It is the stuff they cannot say and would not say if they could. That is why we call it tacit knowledge. It is what you learn from your environment. You might say it’s the unwritten rules of life.”

According to Dr. Robert Sternberg of Yale, this informal knowledge, or Street Smarts, is a far better predictor of managerial success than academic performance. He even said a very high I.Q. could be a detriment to managerial success.

“I don’t think Street Smarts has anything to do with big cities or small cities,” Sternberg said. “It’s no longer a negative term that conjures up images of street gangs or con artists. There is no denying that street smarts has its roots in the impoverished areas of inner cities, places in which people had to develop certain abilities just to survive physically; but just as blues singers are no longer slaves, street smart people are no longer just city-dwellers. They are born, raised, live, and work in all types of environments.

“So how do you learn to be street smart? One of the critical things is just your attitude. You must have an attitude that this is something that matters — something you can use to your advantage. So a big part of learning is motivational. It is almost a prerequisite for developing it. Then you have to seek out the information from other people, from your environment, and from within yourself. The first is done by observing Street-Smart people and asking questions of mentors. The second is done by paying attention, both inwardly and outwardly. You have to let the knowledge you already have come out-and we all have more than we might give ourselves credit for.”

Above all, it takes experience, constantly adjusting your attitude to make the most of every situation.

Advertisements