Luke Muglistion is CEO of The Gate, London.
When he was young he represented Britain at fencing, in Europe and the World Championships.
He developed his love of fencing at an exclusive public school.
He was obviously very talented at it.
But he had a weakness.
His fencing coach explained to him that he was vulnerable to any equally talented boy who came from a council estate.
Because that boy had two things Luke didn’t have.
He was hungrier and he had street smarts.
Both of which would give him an unfair advantage.
How could that be?
How could a boy from a council estate have an unfair advantage over a boy from public school?
Stanley Pollitt, co-founder of BMP, also co-founder of the discipline of Planning, once told me about his time at university.
Stanley had been a boxing blue at Oxford.
Apparently a ‘blue’ is the highest university award for sport.
Stanley said he loved boxing and was very good at it.
But he decided to quit after the most painful ten minutes of his life.
He went three rounds against the champion of the British Army.
Stanley said he got battered.
University champions were athletes who beat other students.
But army boxers were hard men who beat other soldiers.
That is their unfair advantage.
One learns to survive according to civilised, academic rules.
One learns to survive without rules.
I was explaining this to some underprivileged youngsters from Lewisham and Brixton recently.
What seems like a disadvantage can actually be an advantage.
In the middle class you learn to behave according to the rules.
On a council estate you learn there are no rules, you learn to out-think other people.
You have no choice.
You have to learn to turn a disadvantage into an advantage.
Some of the most famous comedians were wimps at school.
They learned to make tougher kids laugh to avoid being beaten up.
They turned disadvantage into advantage.
I told these underprivileged youngsters they could do it too, but it was difficult to recognise their advantage.
To escape the council estate, they’d try to sound and behave like the middle class, change their accent and their behaviour.
But all they’d become was second-best versions of someone else.
They’d be giving away their advantage.
On a council estate you can’t see your advantage.
It’s not until you work in a middle-class environment that your advantage becomes apparent.
What is called creativity is simply street smarts.
What is called entrepreneurialism is simply street smarts.
What is called behavioural economics is simply street smarts.
Choice Architecture, Sunk Cost Bias, Hyperbolic Time Discounting, Utility Heuristic, Social Identity Matrix, are all just street smarts.
Of course, you don’t learn those terms on a council estate.
The long words are added to give it respectability.