Do you ever wonder why some people get all the breaks--and get ahead--with seeming ease? What's their secret? It may be that they're smart, or that they simply went to the "right" schools. But research indicates that it's not always privilege that opens doors. It's also a matter of "culture smarts."
People with culture smarts can have a lively conversation with anyone--about restaurants, pop music, art, fashion, business, tech trends, the news of the day. They're lifelong learners who keep gathering a little information about a lot of things that you don't necessarily learn from school. You learn it from people.
Do you have culture smarts? To find out, print this list of occupations or copy them onto a sheet of paper. Put a check mark next to each profession in which you know someone well enough to talk to, even if you are not close to him or her. Indicate whether that person is a relative (R), friend (F), or consequential stranger CS)--an acquaintance. Then scroll down to see what it all means and how your answers compare to national samples.
middle school teacher
What It All Means
The above list was used in a survey of 3,000 employed or previously employed adults, aged 21 to 64, conducted by sociologist Nan Lin who devised the method as a way of analyzing people's personal networks (and graciously allowed it to be reprinted in Consequential Strangers).
Best-known: Nurse–nearly 70% of the respondents knew at least one.
Somewhat well-known: 45% or more respondents listed a hairdresser, lawyer, police officer, computer programmer, or middle school teacher.
Not very well-known: Fewer than 20% knew a taxi driver, CEO, production manager, or a congressperson.
Least known: Hotel bell boy (2.7%)
But it's not just a matter of knowing the commonly held occupations, or knowing people with the "better" jobs, says Bonnie Erickson, a sociologist who uses Lin's occupation test in her own research. Culture smarts is acquired by knowing a variety of people up and down the occupational ladder. "If you know people in lots of different occupations," explains Erickson, "you have access to information and resources all over the place."
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