The underlying assumption associated with being book smart is that you possess a lot of intellectual theory but lack the ability to practically utilize your knowledge base. Whereas, if you are street smart, you have a lot of intuitive, “real-world” knowledge but lack the theoretical understanding to explain WHY or HOW something works, instead your skills are limited to just acting on WHAT to do.

Similar to what I wrote about regarding the interconnected relationship between art and science, being book smart is not in opposition to being street smart, nor is street smart in opposition to being book smart. They are not either/or. They are both/and.

It is fixed minded to believe you are either one or the other. Nobody asks whether you are more of a practice athlete than a competition athlete. The point of your practice is to prepare you for effective competition. That being said, the mindsets and behaviors that support effective practicing are different than those that support effective competing. Therefore, they are still useful distinguishing contexts in the same way that distinguishing between theoretical learning and applied learning clarifies what the intended and expected outcomes of each will be. A better question to ask is do you prefer book learning or street learning, or which part of your intellect could use more development–theoretical knowledge (book) or applied knowledge (street)? These are more fitting self-awareness based questions that you can use to inform future courses of action for growth and development.

In addition to book smart versus street smart being a false dichotomy, it is also an example of a problematic mental model. It is problematic because it represents a worldview that doesn’t support nor encourage further contemplation, it shuts it down. A good mental model doesn’t answer one question and then you are a done (i.e., are you book smart or street smart), it allows you to be dynamic and responsive to change over time, as opposed to wed too tightly to one belief, point of view, or matter of opinion.

A good mental model gives you a lens with which to keep learning because it represents nuance in a way that makes re-thinking enticing and enrolling.

Book smarts are valuable AND so are street smarts. Prioritize developing both. And regularly test your knowledge of both to learn about your limits. The outcome of your tests reflect your current level of capacity under pressure, which gives you feedback about how you need to adjust your practice routine to improve your capabilities.

Your book smarts enable you to READ books with curiosity, depth, introspection, and empathy. Your street smarts allow you to WRITE books with creativity, depth, introspection, and empathy.

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