The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: Career wise, is it better to be book smart or street smart? is written by Tom Gimbel, CEO of the LaSalle Network.
There are different kinds of people we work with every day. We don’t look the same. We don’t dress the same. We don’t think the same. Every person has unique qualities — and that’s a good thing. There are people who are book smart, and people who are street smart. Choosing which is better is like choosing whether it’s better to be creative or analytical. Both are important. Truly successful people realize book smart people need street smart people, and vice versa.
In my opinion, street smart is about how to read people. Today it’s probably more about EQ than IQ some would have you believe. The leaders in politics tend to be book smart and many times lag in street smarts — or they wouldn’t say the things they do. What about business leaders who get to the pinnacle of their industry or profession but are derailed by a scandal. Street smart? You’d say no, however until they were caught you probably would have said yes. What about the ability to successfully get around in a foreign country — street smart? Maybe. But how often does that actually happen?
See also: Why Being Book Smart Is Overrated
However, the real definition of street smart when it comes to corporate America is how someone manages and executes projects. How they see the entirety of the project and the obstacles they have to overcome. Part EQ. Part IQ. 100% street smart. This includes when to disclose specific information to get what you need, how to effectively negotiate, and how to make friends with people you would rather tell to jump off a cliff. It also includes winning but not burning bridges and making the “loser” feel like he really didn’t lose that much. And what about attracting and retaining people on a team and motivating them beyond what they thought they were capable of? You may call it great management, but if it accomplishes a goal in an expedited fashion, it’s street smarts.
Now, on to book smarts. We need it. We need accountants who know GAAP. We need Six Sigma black belts. We need international tax experts. We need integrated marketing and big data analysts. We need policy wonks and computer programmers. We need book smart people. However, if everyone operated the same way, there would be no variety. At the end of the day, the important thing is learning. Being adaptable. There’s a lot of change in the workforce — roles, responsibility, products, software, etc. The only way to keep up is to keep learning. Classes. Networking. Certifications. It’s all crucial to grow and develop. Let’s not pick which one is more important, let’s try to create more of each.