Dry Good Store

Always Be Listening

Communities Are Built Person-to-person

by Toby Esterhase

There is a tag line from the stage play and the feature film (Al Pacino with Kevin Spacey, 1992) Glengary Glen Ross: “Always be selling.” It’s a noir story of the lives of hard-sell real estate salesmen.

Hard economic times have already been with us and they are likely to get worse. Every month I encounter people who are looking to augment their income with side jobs. And, just in the normal course of daily errands, I sometimes find opportunities for them.

Radio advertisements in our part of Nevada are filled with help-wanted ads, even though we have the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Small companies, unable to compete for labor with media ads, have been suffering from labor shortages since the pandemic. Companies seek roofers, drivers, HVAC repair people, and an array of many other skills. The heavy equipment dealer cannot deliver a snow plow, the tractor dealer cannot deliver a Brush Hog® for lack of drivers. The stucco installer is booked a year in advance. The economic impacts hurt us all.

There are opportunities for casual and part-time labor that aren’t being filled while people are looking for those kinds of jobs.

What to do?

Back to a Simpler Time

My grandfather owned a small, Midwest savings and loan company. His byword echoed Kevin Spacey in Glengarry Glen Ross: “Always be selling.” In his business, if you didn’t make a sufficient number of new loans every week, 50 weeks a year, you would go bust.

He would spend hours at the knife sharpening shop. More hours at the lawn mower repair shop. Those and other venues where he spent a lot of time were a 20-mile drive across town. In an age before the Internet, these are some of the places where people would sit around and socialize while waiting to get their knives, scissors or lawn mower blades sharpened. It was there that my grandfather would learn the life stories of the other customers. Sometimes he learned enough to find a way to get them to apply for a loan to expand their business, pay off a personal debt, or pay for an unexpected repair.

Tagging along with him during my summer breaks from school, I learned something that served me in life even better than learning touch typing: “Always be listening.”

To pitch a loan to somebody, my grandfather first needed to understand the borrower’s life situation. Only then could he suggest ways to benefit from the loan proceeds.

That means conversing with people. That’s also known as “active listening.”

Younger people aren’t the only ones who have let their active listening skills atrophy in favor of anonymous social media interchanges.

I had a face-to-face interchange with my farm implement dealer this month. A general remark such as, “you’ve got a lot of inventory,” can elicit all manner of information, from trouble hiring mechanics to the high cost of recycling lead-acid batteries.

In the case of the farm implement dealer, he couldn’t find delivery drivers. A friend who delivers wholesale auto parts five days a week needed extra income and the implement dealer had customers who would accept weekend deliveries. So, my friend and my implement dealer should be able to make a deal.

“Active listening” is a simple form of intelligence collection — also known as “spying” — conducted for the benefit of your local community instead of the government.

For those looking for a little help in understanding the art of active listening, there is a near-infinite array of resources on the Internet. A good place to start is Scott Pierce’s TedX talk on the subject, where he emphasizes the difference between parroting and improvisational conversation. Look up his lecture on YouTube by Scott Pierce, How to actively listen to others – TEDxBirminghamED.

Money You Can Own, Money You Can Spend

In the central bank digital currency era, you don’t own your own money and the government will tell you if, how, when and where you can spend it.

For many people, having money they can own and spend as they like implies that they will need to earn it. The so-called parallel (non-CBDC) economy will expand. To participate in that economy, you and those around you will need to understand the economic needs of others and find ways to fill the gaps with what you can offer.

Always be listening. Always be selling.

(Toby Esterhase is the pseudonym of a Silicon Valley technology company investor living in rural Washoe County. He holds patents in wireless cryptography and secure communications systems.)

(The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Nevada Signal.)