Episode 46: Book Smart vs Street Smart – How Important is Common Sense?

Book Smart vs Street Smart

today’s episode #046 is one of my favorites: Book Smart vs Street Smart – How Important is Common Sense?  In this week’s episode, we will discuss the concept of Common Sense and how impacts your progress.   

To get started, lets define Book Smarts, Street Smarts and Common Sense: 

Book smarts refer to the education, schooling and other kinds of knowledge that one has acquired. It solely is a theoretical understanding of facts or ideas. 

Street smarts is having the experience and knowledge necessary to deal with the potential difficulties or dangers of life in an urban environment. 

So, what is Common Sense.  Your common sense is your natural ability to make good judgments and to behave in a practical and sensible way. 

I believe society as a whole is lacking common sense and is overemphasizing the importance of book smart versus street smart.  So, looking at your life, are you book smart or street smart?   

In my life, I was truly blessed with two parents who had PHD’s in Street Smarts and who taught us how to apply it in the real world.   

They Started Early 

My parents allowed me to make simple choices at an early age. They   didn’t they do everything for me and let me experiment and explore, which as I got older, positively impacted my confidence and ability to make decisions.  They gave me a chance to choose right from wrong and use my basic decision-making skills.   

They Allowed Us to Fail/Make Mistakes 

Along the way, I picked the wrong choice or made poor decisions but I learned to reassess the next time and try something that worked better or as I say, “make better mistakes”.  Future success is one failure away.   They let me use my mind to learn right from wrong and good from bad by practicing his common sense skills. The worst mistake is to never try.  If your problem is always solved for you by someone else, your common sense factor will be a BIG FAT ZERO

They Let Us Trust Our Instinct 

They allowed us and required us to try to figure out what to do. Instinct is a powerful tool that can lead you to make decisions you never knew he’d be able to come up with on his own. They left us to own devices and let us thrive. 

Are we born with common sense? 

In my opinion it’s a NO!  You are not born with common senseit simply manifests itself as you grow up.   You need to learn: 1) what your culture considers sound judgment; and 2) behave accordingly. This is nowhere near as obvious and easy as it seems to the more levelheaded adults in our society. 

Does everyone have common sense? 

Simply put, not everyone can be of average height or weight, temperament or personality, cognitive ability, social status; yet, almost all people think they are (Consider the Lake Wobegon Effect which is a natural tendency to overestimate one’s capabilities and see oneself as better than others). That is, by definition, not everyone can have common sense. To some, a lack of common sense can be earth shattering and awful. 

A good example of a lack of common sense was a recent episode of Shark Tank where a young entrepreneur was attempting to acquire investment in her early childhood education company.  In her introduction, she stated she had earned multiple degrees from Harvard in addition to becoming a certified Montessori instructor.  In starting her company, she acquired $2.4 million from investors but had burnt through the $2.4 million in record time, had no company revenue to show for it, was in need of additional investment or was going to lose her company.   

When questioned by the Sharks about her obvious lack of concern over the financial disaster and its impact to investors, she was oblivious to the loss and to her the $2.4 million was simply a number; she lacked common sense that losing the $2.4 million was by no means good and she needed to understand what impact this had to the investors who had lost their hard-earned money.   This is a clear lack of street smarts.   A loss of any money is not good but $2.4 million is catastrophic! 

Whereas, street smarts refers to the experiential knowledge on things  and which one is more helpful can be a matter of debate and also depends on the context, it is generally seen that street smarts weigh more on the scale when it comes to making one’s way to success. 

We all go to school and college for education and to increase our prospects of getting a job. There are some who excel in academics and land up with a job that pays well. But book smarts can only get you as far. A practical and rational understanding of your situation is what you need to push yourself forward. 

Street smarts rely more on intuition in order to plan their next move. According to them, their real-life experiences are their primary sources of knowledge. 

What are examples of basic common sense: 

  • Knowing How Your Behavior impacts Others Around You 
  • Respecting elders 
  • Not using abusive words 
  • Treating everyone irrespective of status with respect 
  • Loving children 
  • Being kind 
  • Not giving excuses for self or others 
  • Respecting women, children.. 
  • Ensuring safety of loved one. 
  • Honesty 
  • Silencing your cell phone so the world doesn’t have to hear it 
  • Saying Please, thank you, sorry 
  • Throwing trash where it belongs in the dustbin. 
  • Parking your car in a manner so as not to occupy two parking spaces. 
  • Which basically brings me to observing traffic rules 

Some people find it harder to think through the consequences of their actions and need to learn common sense. And for some highly intelligent people they never will learn the common-sense way, but they then go on to make important discoveries to change the world such as Einstein and Elon Musk. 

The ability to perceive, understand, and make sound judgment is the most desired quality almost everyone wants to have for the survival and growth in life. As life tends to throw the different kind of challenges at every stage, people want to have the ability to do the right things, and get prepared when something unexpected happens to lives. 

Common sense is a natural ability to make appropriate judgment about practical matters. You do not need to have specialized knowledge to exercise common sense and make a sound judgment in everyday life situations. It is common sense not to jump into the deep water when you do not know how to swim. The do’s and don’ts in any particular situations that enrich the common sense of a person is a byproduct of life-experiences. 

Although common sense is a natural quality and does not have to be taught, there are few steps that help you to improve you to improve common sense. Here are few tips that help you to improve your common sense in order to survive and grow in life: 


Trust is the foundation step to increase your common sense. If you do not trust yourself, you would be not able to see the clear picture of situations in order to figure out the suitable way to solve the problems. So, trust yourself and be confident and handle the challenges of life to improve your common sense. 


To make a proper decision, you need to take emotion out of the equation. When your mind is occupied with the outcome of certain situations, you would be not able to pay attention to every detail and find out the best possible alternative to handle the situations. So you should detach yourself emotionally from the situations, to figure out appropriate alternative to do things. 


Life does not throw challenges in front of a person that they cannot handle them. If you tend to over think and over analysis the situations, it would only make the situations even more complicated. So stop over thinking and over analysis of situations and handle them the moment you figure out the best suitable way. 


There are certain ways to do specific work. If you do things the way, you like to do rather than how it can be done effectively, you complicate the problems. The handling of problems appropriately is what really matter the most not how you would like to handle them. So be smart and do things as it can be done rather than how you would like to do them and that in turn improve your common sense. 

Hence, common sense is a critical component to not only our survival but for the growth in life as well. Increase your experiences of handling the problems of life in order to improve your common sense rather than getting stuck at certain stages of life. So, if you want to reach the height of success in every sphere of life, always make sure to discipline yourself to develop a habit of increasing awareness in order to improve your common sense. 

I leave you with a couple quotes: 

I am not saying that being educated is of no value, what I am saying is that many times experience brings common sense which is something that just reading a book or studying does not give you.  

Catherine Pulsifer, Showing Common Sense 

I do not have an innate prejudice against intellect, intelligence, or, for that matter, graduate degrees, but they are not substitutes for common sense, people sense, or street smarts.  

Mark H. McCormack, What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School 

Get out there and get STREET SMART! 

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