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 William Craig, founder and president of WebpageFX.
The benefits of having “book smarts” versus “street smarts” have been debated for generations. Surely, many have thought, ‘one is more practical than the other’. However, human beings rarely have polarized personalities and, as such, you’ve likely never had an employee with zero common sense or zero technical training. Instead, you have employees who fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. But which end should you be leaning more toward when hiring? In my opinion, you should hire for street smarts and good ‘ol fashioned common sense. At the end of the day, the kind of common sense a person possesses has a lot to do with how well they’ll fit into your company culture, which has a huge impact on employee happiness and retention.
People who lean more to the street smarts side of the spectrum will likely be better at connecting with clients and coworkers, accurately assess work-related situations, and be a productive member of your team. While someone with tons of technical knowledge could no doubt be a valuable employee, he or she may not be as adept at feeling out a client’s goals or interacting with other team members. When you value employees with good common sense, it’s possible to train them in any technical area they may be lacking to encourage a more well-rounded team member. Here are a few more reasons why it can be to your advantage to value employees with street smarts:
It’s a characteristic of self-made millionaires
It’s no secret that self-made millionaires are often great at understanding other people and knowing how to leverage that understanding for their organization’s benefit. It’s important to know your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the people you’re working with. If you can do this, it’s likely easier to adapt to most business situations and develop valuable partnerships and investment opportunities for your company.
It informs our ability to take charge
While book smart people can certainly contribute innovative ideas to your team, employees who possess a lot of common sense will be more likely to put those ideas into action, faster. People who have a good deal of common sense will be better at understanding when a project can be taken to the next step, or when it needs a manager’s approval. Such reasoning abilities can do wonders to speed up a company’s daily productivity and could offer a solution for organizations that stagnate due to process roadblocks.
Surveys of more than 100 American and European consulting groups in 2011 revealed that organizational procedures, infrastructures, and policies significantly hinder company productivity. In organizations with highly complicated process structures, managers devote 40% of their time to creating reports and as much as 60% of their time to meetings. While this is something that needs to be addressed on a company-wide level, I think it’s safe to say that hiring employees with common sense smarts could help organizations put more trust in their teams’ abilities to execute tasks and overcome these roadblocks.
It helps us think on our feet
To piggyback off of my point above, it’s important to point out that a strong common sense compass can be invaluable in times of crisis and client emergencies. If a client experiences a problem and needs help with something, you’re going to want to have a quick-thinking, rational employee on the phone. A 2011 study from the journal Personnel Psychology found that entrepreneurs who learn from experience tend to have an advantage over entrepreneurs who learn through observing and reading. While both kinds of experiences are valuable, the study highlights the importance of paying attention to the skills your applicants have obtained from hands-on situations.