“Every day for 40 fucking years, at least one of you has come up to me and said – what do you think – ‘You talkin’ to me?’”
– Robert De Niro, 40th Anniversary screening of Taxi Driver
Audio version read to you by Ian as if you were his passenger in his cab driver days. 6’30” plus 10% credit card surcharge.
I’m co-owner of some reasonably successful national businesses, for which I’m very grateful, and none of that would have happened if I hadn’t been a cab driver.
Back story: at age 20, freshly evicted from a prestigious veterinary school for being an absolute dickhead and a hazard to animals, I started driving a cab. It had a constant aroma like dumpster cabbages from Gary the night shift driver, but it paid the rent on my crusty share house.
Six weeks into that experience, I picked up a business-y looking guy in the city for a ten-minute fare to the inner suburbs. We got talking. As I dropped him off he said something like, “I’ve just started a corporate audiovisual company, you seem plausible, do you want a job as a junior technician?”
I had zero idea what that was, but I felt sure it wouldn’t smell of cabbages. I started work a couple of days later. That company grew from startup to the biggest in its field, I learned a lot, ended up on the board, and later started various businesses of my own.
If not for cabs, I could have become … I don’t know, a detergent brand manager for Global Consumer Products or some equally stifling fate.
Digital Disruption At Its Finest
Last week I got a half hour cab ride with a young-ish Bangladeshi guy. He questioned me about our business. I asked what he was up to. He’s trying to get an exporting business up and running, selling Australian agricultural produce into Bangladesh. It was a fascinating chat.
I asked what it was like dealing with the government over there. He said it used to be painful bureaucracy and constant bribe demands at every step, but quality internet had made life much easier. For a start, they don’t have to wait around in government offices for a week to get permits.
But best of all, when officials ask for bribes now, people shoot hidden phone footage and post it to their social feeds. So bribery and corruption is on a major decline thanks to the People’s Court of YouTube.
Isn’t that the best disruption story you’ve heard in ages? Good people aren’t losing their jobs for once, and your honest hardworking Bangladeshi can get down to business quicker and cheaper. It made me so happy.
Talking to cab drivers (and obviously Uber, Lyft and all the other drivers) is good for you on so many levels*. Here’s why:
It Keeps Your Mind Open
So much useful knowledge comes from sources you least expect.
In business world, it’s easy to slip into the mindset that you can only get quality information from well-dressed people in nice offices, particularly if you are one yourself. Like you’re too good to learn anything from someone in an embroidered polyester shirt.
Snap out of your closed-minded snobbery and listen. If you practice keeping an open mind in cabs, it’s easier to do it everywhere.
It Lifts Your Conversation Skills
I’m no natural chatterbox. I’m a mild introvert who’s trained himself to get out there and find out what’s on people’s minds because it’s interesting.
I know cab chats can be hard work sometimes. Some cab drivers are mute sociopaths. Consider them the heavy weights on your conversation gym. If you can get a conversation going with them, you’ll have no trouble with any of your staff.
You’ll be in better shape for catch-ups with inert clients who have no banter beyond: “So … had a busy week?”
If people spent as much time working on their conversation skills as they did on gym programs, they would be rolling in friends and cash.
You’re Open To Opportunities
Business opportunities don’t just come in through your inbox. From experience, someone who wants to get out of cab life is pretty motivated.
Like my Uber driver who had been in Hong Kong for the last six years as the Asia-Pacific regional boss of a major electronics brand. He had just moved back because of his kids’ schooling, and was hunting for a new gig. In the meantime, he’s out there in his plush SUV Uber-ing between interviews. There’s a lot of job talent cruising around. I’ve often thought Uber and LinkedIn should do a joint venture for folks like this, with mobile interviews.
You might not find any opportunities in cabs. But if you practice looking out for them wherever you are, they’re more likely to find you.
Random Meetings That Make Your Life Richer
I got a cab late one night, driver in a baseball cap pulled down low. He asked me to repeat directions a couple of times, and apologised for being a bit deaf in one ear. I jokingly asked if he was a drummer. He said no, but he was in a band. I looked closer and said: Hey, are you Blackie?
And so he was. Peter “Blackie” Black, guitarist/singer from legendary punk icons The Hard-Ons, a band both hardcore and hilarious. They remain Australia’s most successful independent band. We spoke of artists we both loved and I hassled him for guitar tone tips. The Hard Ons are still huge in random countries, so cab driving is the only gig that gives him the freedom to do quick tours of Spain and Greece.
Life is full of these lovely little episodes if you speak to strangers.
Sure, chatting to Blackie might mean a lot less to you than me, but trust me your favourite Instagram influencers will be doing lots of Uber-driving and coffee-making pretty soon, once their sponsors trade them in for newer, perkier ones next year.
It Diversifies Your Thinking
It’s a big world out there. The ideal way to broaden your horizons and get a glowing spectrum of inspiration is to travel and talk to people of all cultures.
That’s expensive and time consuming. Handily many of those cultures are delivered straight to you in the form of cab drivers from everywhere. Talk to them about their lives. Ask their opinion on issues you care about. Ask them what your industry is like in their country**. You might find ideas to steal.
Ideas that your blinkered, headphoned, uninterested competitors will never have because their inspiration pool is birdbath-shallow.
*If you’re lucky enough, as I am, to live and work in places where you aren’t separated from cab drivers by three-inch thick anthrax lab glass.
**Only do this if they volunteer they’re from another country. We touched on this last month:
“Tip: if they’re a different color to you, don’t ask them where they came from. It’s not so much offensive as boring: they get asked that about twenty times a day, so you start a well-worn formula conversation where you learn nothing. Plus they probably came from the same place as you.”
If you liked this, you might also enjoy Stop Saying How Busy You Are.
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