The Apprentice: StreetSmarts versus Booksmarts…what is next?

If I were one of the contestants on the Apprentice, I might take offense being labeled as either “street smart” OR “book smart”. Like you can’t be both. I’m trying to figure out what I am (stop it). I know I am street smart but I think I am book smart too (I’m sure this will be the next topic of conversation when I talk to my mother…just wait). Anyway, many people are both. Many people are just one and don’t know how to take advantage of their strength. Just a little introspection…it will give you something to think about on your commute home tonight, right?

So, given the discussion already about book smarts and street smarts (can we call them BS and SS…maybe not), and my firm belief that you cannot really judge based on limited info (that’s why we do the interviews, folks), I guess I am finding the division of the 2 teams a little trivial. For example, you could assume that the street smarts kids are scrappier (if that’s not a word, let’s let it pass this once). But think about someone who had to work 2 jobs to pay their way through college. Now that’s scrappy too (not to be confused with Scrappy Doo…sorry, I digress). The point is, whatever you think you know about these people on these teams could totally be proven wrong. So it’s fairly trivial.

Given that, you could pick a number of different factors to split up the teams. I thought the gender thing was a little played out…like they wanted you to say “women are so this” or “men are so this” (there were plenty of ridiculous comments on both teams). But there could be a bunch of other teams they could come up with. For example, would it be interesting to see Olympic athletes versus pro athletes that have successfully entered the business world.  How about a team of only children (OK, maybe I’m hoping that this would be my chance to get the Donald’s attention) versus those from large families. Either way, the production company is picking people that are remarkable in some regard. What other kinds of teams could be interesting?

Comments (15)

  1. Jeff says:

    My opinion, and I’ve really believed this through all of my career(s), is that simply going to college and finishing even an undergrad degree, provided you lived on campus, creates a very different person in terms of being ready for the world and a place in business.

    The real education in college for me had nothing to do with class, it had to do with living in a dorm and having to deal with other people. I’m astounded at the different social abilities of people that shared my experience versus those that lived in their parents’ basement and commuted to school. The gap is even bigger with those that skipped college entirely.

    I also think that what you studied for your undergrad degree doesn’t make a bit of difference in terms of what your qualifications are after you’ve been out for a number of years. The best people I’ve worked with did not get a CS degree at all. They usually studied something like business or journalism (like me), and that becomes obvious in their ability to lead, market ideas internally and generally get the bigger picture in terms of understanding the problem their software is trying to solve.

  2. Steve says:

    I am partial to dogs vs. cats. Go Dogs! 😉

  3. Heather says:

    Jeff-I agree with the idea behind your point, but when it comes to hiring someone for a job, I just care if they have the skills regardless of whether they got them in college or elsewhere. And I’m not convinced that the only place to get them is college. I learned a lot in college…some of the social stuff that you describe. But I know other people that learned the same things because they lived in a big family. I think that the skills are more important than where you got them.

    Steve- that’s funny. I’m a dog girl myself…uh, you know what I mean.

  4. Agreed that the divisions are small. However, they are very real. Most people have fairly strong feelings on "bs vs ss". I imagine that for most people this will come down to their personal life choices, circumstances and preferences.

    I would, for example, be surprised to find someone who’d succeeded without a university degree saying that having one was the only way to go. Not dead shocked, but surprised.

    As you said (Heather), I think it comes down to finding qualified people. And both life and school can churn out qualified people. The problem, of course, is that resumes don’t do a very good job at showing off who people really are. That’s what blogs are for 😉

    Go dogs!

  5. I agree with Jeremy on this one. The division may seem minor in practice, but it’s very real, and there are a large group of people from both camps that would say that their way is both better and the right way (that is, go to college or not).

    I’m for the cats (tigers!!!)

    To Jeff, you have a point to be sure, but work in a major metropolitan area, in IT especially, and see if you don’t get exposed to and have more fun learning about more different cultures and people than even at college. Learning the people skills is definitely a major part of the college experience, but the college experience isn’t the only way to learn that stuff.

  6. Phil Weber says:

    "How about a team of only children…?"

    Until I finished this sentence, I thought you were suggesting "The Apprentice Junior" Those Kool-Aid stands can get pretty cutthroat! 🙂

  7. Steve Hall says:

    Not that I like being flame-bait but…..I’m going to be a bit controversial and claim that NEITHER extreme of being ONLY book-smart or ONLY street-smart is good for what The Donald desires. I think he (and the producers) have contrived this year’s "situation" to prove a point: to be a successful overall businessman you need a lot of BOTH! (I’ve actually heard him say this in more than one interview…and I seem to remember him stating it in one of his books. Oops! Did *I* claim to have read one of his books?!?!?! THAT would be contrary to my supposed street-smarts!)

    Of course!, the rationale I have for this is my own experience. I’m a hybrid book-street-smartie-pants due to some family politics that prevented me from going to a snooty college. Nay…I’ve had to support myself since age 18 (paying my own way through "commuter non-dorm" college and my own apartment rent), even though my parents were upper-middle class and could certainly afford it. (Family politics! Gotta luv that compassionate conservative agenda! The "thrown ’em to the wolves" one…)

    Regardless (back to the plot line), I never got my CS degree after taking classes for 7 years due to having to work 60-80 hours a week in multiple jobs while taking night classes. I stopped at age 25 when my company at the time transferred me from Cleveland to Silicon Valley, and found that California universities were a bit painful to transfer into… The lack of degree didn’t affect me back then and it hasn’t ever since!

    You see, I started programming when I was 8… That 10 year head-start propelled me ahead of everyone my own age. I was working as the highest paid student at my university by the 3rd quarter of my freshman year…of course at the university computer center. A few months later I transferred into the Systems Programming department where I was modifying compilers and working on the worlds most heavily modified copy of IBM OS/VS1 kernel (precursor to MVS)…at age 18. In my 20’s, I was hired into Senior positions at several timesharing/service-bureau companies (one of them was the largest data-center in the world) that usually only hired 30-40-somethings. Having co-workers 10-15 years my senior certainly required me to learn how to deal with people in a LOT different fashion then if I’d spent 4 years sitting in a dorm being sociable only with my own age group. (Also, working at the edge of the worst black ghetto in the US in the mid-70’s, namely the Hough neighborhood in Cleveland’s east side, taught me how to be the only white boy amongst a sea of black Americans on their own turf…and live to talke about it! A culture lesson I’d never have learned in a dorm at a university filled with all white-bread…)

    All of that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t the street-smarts as a child to recognize my own strengths and interests and the book-smarts to soak up as much knowledge as I could muster, as well as befriend the only Mexican kids and only Japanese kids in the whole city down the street to learn about them. During those years it became obvious that neither book-smarts or street-smarts alone was ideal, unless you’re committed to a narrow-scope career (the oft-told joke about BA degrees in areas like "18th Century Russian Literature" come to mind).

    Also, I learned the two most important "meta-lessons" in life: 1) Life is a continual learning experience, and 2) The best survival skill to know HOW to find things out and discover new things (NOT rote memorization of trivia…the WHATS).

    In essence, I learned agility (in both forms) before leaving grade school. (I pity those that don’t discover these survival skills until college or after college…)

    I’ve often encountered during the hudnreds of interviews over 30 years the two extremes: 1) People who over-value their book-smarts and are uncomfortable with a chaotic work atmosphere and prefer more stodgy and stable (unchanging) companies, and 2) People who over-value their street-smarts and are uncomfortable with a stodgy/stable (unchanging) company and prefer a chaotic workplace. (I’m often astonished that recent college graduates don’t have a CLUE about survival skill #1 or #2 above. E.g., totally incapable of using a search engine, such as MSDN Library search, to find some little factoid that’s holding up their coding. I’m also astonished that peers my own age haven’t a CLUE about either survival skill! E.g., they’ve completely forgotten EVERYTHING they learned in CS courses and fumble around with serialization concepts like mutexes and semaphores…and not taken a single course or bought a single book since they graduated!)

    I believe The Donald wants someone who can survive in both environments (I.e., someone who is "balanced"), since during the entrepeneurial stage a start-up business requires more "thinking on your feet", but later on as the business matures it requires more "steadied and studious thinking".

    I’m curious if there are any ringers on either team that are really hybrids like I am. If there are, then I assert that they will end up as a finalist, if not the winner.

    Regardless, it’ll be interesting to here what The Donald will have to say at the end of the season as to this age-old argument.

  8. Steve, you and I are in complete agreemet.

  9. Ian says:

    "I’ve never let school interfere with my education."

    -Mark Twain

    That sums it up for me. Yes, it’s good if you have both, but I would pick street smarts over book smarts (BS ;)) ANY DAY! 🙂

  10. When I look at my past I see a few things that I today look back with some regrets:

    1. That I did not get more involved in team groups in college. I did participate in a group that built a hybrid-electric vehicle for a national competition. What I regret is not getting into more of these outside learning opportunities. The one I did work on gave me insight into teamwork and how people from other parts of the university thought and worked.

    2. I kick myself a lot for not persuing internships during college. If there is a single thing that I tell young people is that they have to do at least 1 internship during their studies. All of my friends that did internships are a lot further in their careers than the ones (including myself) that did not do them. Now I can say that I had to work to pay for school but I think i could have managed.

    3. That I did not use my professors as mentors more. There were a few professors that I would try to be open and ask life/career questions but for the most parts I viewed profs at my university as untouchable. It was only after school that I realized that most of them were begging for students to come to open office hours and talk about anything to them.

  11. Heather says:

    Steve, I don’t think you are flame bait…I found very little to disagree with in your comments. I was a late bloomer so the street smarts came to me when I had to figure out how to support myself without any help from the parents. Mark Burnett (creator of Survivor and the Apprentice) was on the Today show this AM and talked about nannying his first 2 years in the US and he talked about it being valuable because he learned how he wanted to live (lifestyle-wise). I learned a lot by living how I didn’t want to live. That was a real motivator for me. Peanut butter and jelly doesn’t taste good when you eat it 3 days in a row.

    oh, back to the street versus book smarts topic….I think it also depends on what kind of job someone has. Some require more book smarts than others…ditto with street smarts. I agree with Ian’s comment on the preference for street smarts over book smarts personally (although professionally, it depends on what kind of job I am hiring for). But we don’t have to worry about that do we? ; ) I assume that my blog readers have it all ; )

    Chris-you give good advice. I too regret not interning. I just didn’t know at that point what I wanted to do. I wasn’t particularly mature for my age when I was in college. I also didn’t leverage mentors. I also regret not doing campus interviews. I was carrying 21 units my second semester of senior year and graduated jobless (and moneyless…whee! And with huge student loans! woohoo!). I learned a lot through my mistakes back then. It’s been quite a journey from there to here.

  12. Jeff says:

    "To Jeff, you have a point to be sure, but work in a major metropolitan area, in IT especially, and see if you don’t get exposed to and have more fun learning about more different cultures and people than even at college."

    Not knowing anything about my experience or where I’ve worked, that’s a pretty silly thing to say to me. Been there done that. Help desk jockies without degrees are a dime a dozen at every job I’ve been in, but among the code monkeys I’ve yet to find anyone degree-free. Heck, the Indian and Asian immigrants I’ve worked with almost universally have gone further than that and have graduate degrees (MBA’s in particular). Of course, they get bonus points in life experience just for immigrating, as far as I’m concerned. I’d never have the guts to do that.

  13. just smart says:

    Booksmarts assert that the minimal fundamentals are learned through systematic approach. Booksmart approach is a efficient and systematic thus produces consistent skillset in terms of quality and more easily analyzed for minimum overhead "experience" Book smarts establishes a firm foundation for someone to go head out to the business world and start gaining streetsmarts to learn how to survive when nobody is there to spoonfeed you knowledge.

    Streetsmarts assert that you have practical experience and fundamentals were learned via trial and error method. This approach is flexible enough to adapt to fast changing business environments and produces some unique skillsets as nobody goes through the same life experiences. But it also takes a lot of time to build a skill such as in case of learning to code yourself vs. having a tutor teaching giving you fully customized for your needs and ready to answer questions.

    Each knowledge/learning method has pros and cons depending on the business situation. Of course, it is best to have both. Add to that, good looks, rich relative, and most importantly….LUCK….since you don’t need streetsmarts or ivy diploma or looks or rich bloodline to go out and buy the winning $100million jackpot lottery ticket 🙂

  14. bo ringhage says:

    street smarts or booksmarts?totally different from each other……just look at yourself,your booksmarts..

  15. HeatherLeigh says:

    bo- my GPA says differently. One thing I did learn on the mean streets of Illinois though: "You’re" is the contraction of "you are".

    Come on, if you are going to come here with the intent to be critical of me, check the grammar (not to mention the puntuation)!