When visiting a new city, I like to sit in the front seat of my cab or shuttle on the ride from the airport to the hotel. Not only do I get a great view, but I sometimes have conversations with the driver. A couple of weeks ago I was traveling from Houston’s airport to my downtown hotel when I began to tell my driver why I was there: “I am a speaker on creative ways of being an entrepreneur and I’m going to be making two presentations to a conference of University Professors who teach Entrepreneurship”. I mentioned that I was an artist-entrepreneur and a musician and used those skills to make my talks really interesting. I also proudly told him that I had just finished a book on the subject.
Though he was from Columbia, South America, and had a pretty heavy accent, he had an excellent command of English and understood a lot of the terminology associated with entrepreneurship. As he was telling me about his own experiences starting and running a series of businesses, unsuccessfully, he suddenly turned to me and asked, “So, what can you do for me?”, to which I replied, “Now that IS the question isn’t it.”
You see, I am paid to work with companies, universities and arts organizations to raise the level of creativity within their ranks, to inspire them to look in new ways at the things they take for granted. But here I was being put to the test, a real life situation, just two guys talking in a cab…and how could I help him?
I had him tell me more about the nature of his business ventures and why he thought they failed. What he seemed to be lacking were two things, an advisor or mentor, and some kind of plan, like, a business plan. I then wrote down resources for help: SCORE for mentors, Community Colleges for classes in basic business and entrepreneurship, suggested he speak with the Chamber of Commerce, suggested he look at local business journals, and I gave him a copy of my book which has several pages of web sites that could also help him.
I then asked if he wrote at all; his experience in the U.S. and his way with words lent itself to at least a blog or an occasional article, maybe even a book of his own. He said that he did submit comments to other blogs, and he did fantasize about doing a book. I encouraged him to keep that goal in mind and to just keep writing.
Once he asked that question about what I could do for him, I made sure to stop being the Speaker, and start being the Listener, and am taking that as a lesson for me. If being a so called expert in something means all I can do is speak to rooms of people, I am not doing my job. To really make a difference, I have to step off of the stage, making myself vulnerable, and be willing to hear an individual’s needs before my own. Then my advice may have some value.
Not only did my driver take me to my destination, he helped clarify my path.