According to Merriem-Webster dictionary, a street-smart is a person possessing the skills and attitudes necessary to survive in a difficult or dangerous situation or environment.
Hence, it is a person who has a lot of common sense and knows what's going on in the world. This person knows what every type of person has to deal with daily and understands all groups of people and how to act around them. This person also knows all the current bad things going on in the streets and the ghettos and everywhere else and knows how to make his own right decisions, knows how to deal with different situations and has his own independent state of mind.
In the business world, mentors and advisors to entrepreneurs find it easy to recognize “street smarts” when they see them. However, they find hard to explain the specifics to someone on the other end of the spectrum, even if they are willing to learn. They believe that these rare disciplines can be taught and learned even though some people argue that street smarts are only a natural born skill.
In the urban world, being street smart means instinctively knowing how to keep yourself safe from scams and bad guys. It means you know your way around, how to handle yourself in tough situations, and how to “read” people’s intent. In reality, the startup world contains those same very risky streets, but in the business context.
A recent book by John A. Kuhn and Mark K. Mullins, Street Smart Disciplines of Successful People; explains how to be street smart in business. In this book, seven key disciplines are outlined, all of which can be learned and practiced and may actually be required for business success:
- Work smart You have to use discipline to get smart before you start to work. This can be done by finding out mostly everything about the targeted business domain and setting up an actionable execution plan.
- Present everythingThe four steps of a successful presentation always include preparation, practice, delivery, and asking for the order. You have to make sure these parts are in every interaction with partners, customers, and team members.
- Deal with people. People do business with your people, not your startup. People with finely tuned skills make you more likeable, sincere, friendly, open, and effective. Have patience, and listen actively before speaking. Street smart entrepreneurs practice this discipline.
- Watch your money. The discipline to manage cash does not require a financial genius. It just needs a discipline of persistent focus.
- Get more business. This discipline is the art of making a constant of new business opportunities, new customers, and new revenue flowing into your startup. Stay close to current and past customers and optimize marketing. If your startup isn’t evolving and growing, you are failing.
- Manage yourself. Learn and practice time management disciplines. Banish delays. Be decisive. Have fun.
- Everybody sells. Everyone in a startup should be selling. The very first moment that you have contact with an investor, or a customer has contact with your team, an impression is created. That perception is your reality, and you only get one chance to make it a good one.
In addition, street smarts requires that you can put all these things together for problem solving, and to get out well through the risky business streets. It is about balancing your idealistic vision of how things could be, against the realities of the business world. Confidence and positive attitude are also a must to be a street smart and successful entrepreneur.
But problem solving and attitude are not sufficient without the basic disciplines highlighted above. These disciplines are not innate. These represent the know-how and experience of many successful business people. Study them carefully and practice them religiously. The substitute is a long and painful learning curve that can’t be afforded neither by you nor by your investors.