Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Can You Teach Street Smarts?

Written by: on March 12, 2015

Caroline Ramsey in her inquisitive papers, “Provocative theory and the scholarship of practice” and “Management learning: A scholarship of practice centred on attention” continues her impressive work in the field of management and organizational learning.  Ramsey brings further thought, experimentation, and quantification from her research and learning journey of a scholarship of practice.

As I read these, necessarily rigorous, academic works, I had two specific experiences come to mind that became my prevailing filters or learning lenses with which I was able to personally reflect on Ramsey’s brewed works.  The common thread in my experiences were what I would call “intuitive leaders” and is where the title, “Can You Teach Street Smarts?” comes from.  With Ramsey’s basic parameters of a scholarship of practice being: an engagement with ideas, a practice of inquiry, and a navigation of relations, ultimately being contrasted to a scholarship of theory or knowledge-based-learning, the thoughts that came to my mind were about the cliches “book smart” and “street smart.”  Specifically, “street smart” because in my experience with “street smart” leaders or individuals (often called trouble makers much like Ramsey herself:) their mode of operation tends to be ideas oriented, inquisitive in nature, and relationally savvy.  Similar to, if not also defining, a highly intuitive leader.

For now, here is the skinny on my two filtering experiences.  First would be my personal planting of a church while being on a wild educational curve of being in seminary.  For the first three years of the church plant I was becoming an ordained pastor.  This was the first church I ever planted, something which I truly knew very little if anything at all about, when first beginning.  All I really had was a big idea and a whole bunch of questions.  Yes there were questions about how to plant a church, but the questions were much more profound trying to ask the whys of life, love, purpose, faith, Jesus, the Church, God, our world, and so on.  I soon discovered the real key to church planting was people and therefore primarily invited all kinds of people into a big idea full of questions with the only promise being a wild adventure.  God did amazing things through my church planting experience and would be what after reading Ramsey’s articles I would call a wild ride of provocative theory and scholarship of practice.

The second experience occurred just his week.  Yesterday, I was in Salt Lake City, UT with an organization called Building God’s Way (BGW).  BGW is a venture capital design build company that is innovating new practices of stewardship and Kingdom advancement.  In one small part of my time on what we can call a tour, a gentleman by the name of Dan Cook shared their company’s practice of engagement they use with the tradesman who actually build the projects they create, design and supply all materials for.  Dan, who created this very generative process, and now practice, saw an incredible opportunity to involve the trades workers in the designing process at the time when most company’s usually enslave them to plans that once construction starts will tend to have flaws and mistakes that will need correcting on the fly that if asked they would have been able to tell you from the beginning.  So Dan, who saw what is usually a great problem on every design build job site as an opportunity, he invited the full capacity of everyone on the work site into the idea, while asking for their questions, scrutiny, and solutions to how to best achieve the dream of this church while developing the plans and working together for the greatest Kingdom impact.  Dan turned what is often thousands of headaches and hundreds of thousands of dollars into a transformational, collaborative effort of ideation, reflexive inquiry, and relational navigation.  Dan truly exhibited an attention to the idea, the questions and the relationships necessary for maximum production and experience.

When I compare these experiences with Ramsey’s at CPE, where in my mind she played the role of Dan and the role that I played in my church plant because she is the “street smart” one, the intuitive leader, the one who is captivated by ideas, loves inquiry practices, and is a relational genius whom God often smiles uopn . . . it just makes me wonder if that can be taught or if leaders and managers “wired-up” like this just need to be better identified and put into right positions?  Do the schools need to look different for these students are is the world, or should I say streets their classroom????


About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

22 responses to “Can You Teach Street Smarts?”

  1. Brian Yost says:

    Phil, I think the image of street smart verses book smart really encapsulates the key concept we need to keep in mind. It is easy to laud one over the other, but both have their strengths. A classic example is the commissioned verse noncommissioned officer in the military. A lieutenant fresh out of OSC has a lot of book smarts, but he/she will find great wisdom in the experience of sergeants who have years of practical experience. Some work together well and benefit from each other’s “specialty”, but many others let pride get in the way and butt heads. To truly collaborate, pride must take a back seat—good advice for those in the church as well.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      But Brian, which of these is generally more applauded and celebrated in our organizations? Who is rewarded the most?

      I agree that both should be embraced and celebrated ON PAR with each other… But are they?


      • Brian Yost says:

        It seems rare to find someone leaders who will give up their pride and and seek the success of those who follow them. It is rare to find a leader who really listens to “subordinates” before making decisions. But we sure can tell the difference when we find one!

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      I like the commissioned/non-commissioned officer example. It really seems to check what we value and what is effective.

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Phil…Love the filters you read Ramsey’s articles with. Thanks for sharing those. I didn’t realize you were church planting while in seminary. When in seminary I was at a little country church and they made it there mission to take seminary students and train them to become pastors. It was awesome. Just lay leaders giving me freedom to be a pastor for the first time. It’s amazing how little seminary actually taught me compared to the scholarship of practice I was receiving while at the church. It really does make you question the way we train and prepare leaders.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Nick, could you have done the one without the other? Was there a truly synergistic environment during that season for you?

      • Nick Martineau says:

        I do think I needed both and there was a good synergy from doing both together but I really think the country church taught me more. I wish seminary would have taught more practical leadership skills. It was my lead deacon that walked me through a church budget and taught me how to work with other church leaders. Great question Jon.

        • Dawnel Volzke says:

          Jon, Nick and Phil,

          You all have great insight. The best leaders that I know within organizations are both “street smart” and “book smart”. I’ve served with some very good and very poor leaders, and my relationship with them has helped me to grow and develop my own skills and abilities. It would seem that there are several elements to becoming an effective and wise leader. Looking back at my own story, I can see how God has placed me in roles, and allowed me to rub shoulders with certain leaders. The combination of relationships and experience has been the most beneficial to my learning journey. What elements or exercises have most helped you to gain practical wisdom in your work?

          • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

            Dawnel, Mentors and mistakes seem to be the best tools for me in learning to actually do and accomplish the work of my vocation. Maybe even deeper underneath that is just a reflective and reflexive mindset. I was trained early on in ministry, and was naturally wired-up to value, the SWOT method of evaluating everything! If it was worth doing, it was worth evaluating. I think the practice of SWOT-ing everything early on with teams I have built produces a learning culture and in a sense a scholarship of practice.

          • Jon Spellman says:

            Dawnel, for me, there have been three formative relationships that have made me who I am as a leader today… Dr. Roderick Koop as a co-laborer and mentor to me.
            Dr. John Hunzinger, hermeneutics and exegesis professor in Seminary.
            Tina Spellman – well, you know who that is!

            A combination of “in-class” and “in-field” learning for sure…

          • Dawnel Volzke says:

            Phil and Jon,

            It sounds like Carolyn’s thesis is supported through our own experience.

  3. Jon Spellman says:

    Phil, the question at the end of whether or not (my paraphrase), these types of intuitive leading learners can be CREATED or simply need to be IDENTIFIED is a critical one. As structural leaders, the answer to this informs where we direct resources and energy… Assessment and selection OR development?

    What’s your gut feeling having been in the mode of approving planters now for several years? What do your instincts tell you?

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Jon, My gut is 85% of a planter is nature, 15% is nurture. Equipping and training a church planter with skills and competencies I think can be easily misunderstood. I think some pretty false expectations can be set when we think skills and competencies can be taught. Yes that can be taught, but they will only have a 15% impact (according to my Saturday morning guess). I think organizationally/institutionally we think if we teach a pastor or leader “these” skills and competencies . . . that will plant the church we are wanting them to plant. (A self-sustaining, self-supporting, self-propogating body of 200 people in two years, which is ultimately a delusional and dangerous presupposition)

      • Jon Spellman says:

        Phil, in my 14 years of leading church planting efforts denominationally, I would strongly agree with you. It seems that we should be shifting our focus of energy to the ASSESSMENT and ENDORSEMENT of leaders that are already equipped to plant rather than pouring so much resource down the well of DEVELOPING skills in leaders that simply don’t possess them.


  4. Dave Young says:

    Philip, Which are you street smart or book smart? It seems that we need a good measure of both. The intuitive street smart leader needs to be reflective. Needs to pause and have a system by which he can encounter others who can bring different thinking to bare. I’d imagine the best leaders are mostly street smart but also both the will to reflect and the system and accountability to interact with others. Thanks for a great post

  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dave, I am mostly “dirt road smart” and a little bit “picture book smart.” I am nowhere near as sharp as street smart and nowhere near as smart and book smart, but trying hard to grow in both areas :)!

  6. Mary Pandiani says:

    In the 100% where 85% is nature and 15% is nurture – I’d like to throw in a “third way” – what about the reflective leader – the one willing to acknowledge what is motivating them in his/her nature and nurture? Not as an analytical, primarily navel-gazing way, reflection, but in a willingness to be transformed? Is that already assumed in what you’re proposing or is it something that needs to be adding into the mix?

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Mary, I would say the intuitive (street smart) leader is very reflective. I think of them as processors that are fast thinking (reflecting) and moving forward always with a steep transformational learning/growth curve. I know I am making up my own definitions but trying to think along the lines of Dr. Ramsey’s writings purposed at helping managers be more successful.

  7. Mary Pandiani says:

    By the way, I love the street smarts vs. book smarts explanation. The definitions make it clear as to how we view where people’s strength from. For me, I’ve often felt I landed in neither camp, so perhaps that’s why I’m looking for reframing of putting both camps together.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Mary, you’re street smart for sure. Another way to say it would be to say intuitive… You can probably sniff out a rat before there’s any empirical evidence of a rat. Now, because you are also very merciful and gracious, there may be times that you ignore your intuition and get steamrolled but that doesn’t mean you’re not intuitively smart.

      It makes me sad to think that you’ve never seen yourself in either camp.

  8. Travis Biglow says:

    I like the two collaberative ideas, “street smarts” and “book smarts.” it becomes increasingly known that we need both to make sound judments in certain situtions. You cant believe what some street savy people can teach you. Im not saying that street smarts is the most important of the two but we can learn from people who are not book smart! Great!

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