Monday, October 27, 2014

The Cowbell Principle (Guest Blog Post by Brian Carter)

How To Succeed By Defying Mediocrity

Have you seen the More Cowbell sketch from Saturday Night Live? It’s more than just funny. Believe it or not, it’s a powerful metaphor for a successful work life. And it provides insight into the kind of people you need on your team, and what makes an effective team.

Everyone has at least one cowbell — it’s your unique, profitable talent people pay you for or your company's unique offering. It’s something people have a fever for. When you discover it and give those people a ton of it, you gain success and happiness for both yourself and others. It’s a win-win.

A cowbell is simultaneously something you love doing and something other people really want as well (although, as we’ll see, you still will have detractors and critics). A cowbell creates joy for you and other people. It makes them yell for more. They can't get enough.

Defy Mediocrity

If you’re too vanilla, it’s hard to be successful. You don’t stand out. And, interestingly, the most popular flavor is vanilla. But that’s because it’s ice cream, something most people find hard to ignore. Vanilla wafers, not as popular. Vanilla Ice, not popular at all. We talk about him in the section of the book about being annoying. But anyway, vanilla is mediocre. Pink bubblegum ice cream? Now that gets noticed.

Are you in an environment where people praise mediocrity? Then you might be incentivized to stay mediocre, which will only get you an average career. Do you want a remarkable career? Then become a remarkable person. And go weird out some mediocre people.

What you achieve is somewhat determined by your expectations and the expectations of those around you. For example, some families won’t allow their kid to live at home after dropping out of college. They expect their children to get a degree. They expect excellence. Dropping out of college is unacceptable to them. They paid for you to go, so you must succeed. No excuses. Some families are willing to shun their children if they fail. Right or wrong, that’s pretty motivational for kids. Where excellence is expected, mediocrity is rare.

Mediocrity goes along with low expectations, a lack of motivation, a lack of ambition, and zero passion… it’s sleepwalking through life. Is that what you really want? I mean zombies are cool, but do you really want to be one?

A small percentage of people leave their jobs and create a business out of their personality. They don’t have to invent a car or resell wholesale foods or split atoms. Successful speakers and consultants believe the power of their words and intellect is worth more than most things. Are these people confident? Definitely.

Some people succeed just because they want status; they want to look good and be acknowledged as special. Pathological? Maybe, but effective.

If you had $10 million, would you live in a private house on the ocean with huge walls around it? Sure, unless you really want the neighbors to see when you buy your wife that Lexus with a bow on it. Garrison once heard a guy say, “I bought my new Mercedes, and it came with tinted windows. What’s the point of that if no one can see who’s driving it?”

Culture vs. Success

Sometimes your culture fights against your success. Brian learned when speaking in Norway that many Norwegians are fighting against a traditional cultural idea called Janteloven (pronounced yonta-loave-en), based on the laws of Jante, from, believe it or not, a novel. Why they let a novel hold such sway over them, we don’t know!

These rules are so extreme that we want to share them with you, because when you read them we think you’ll understand why the Norwegians need to rebel.

The 10 rules of Jante state:

    1.       You're not to think you are anything special.
2.       You're not to think you are as good as we are.
3.       You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
4.       You're not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
5.       You're not to think you know more than we do.
6.       You're not to think you are more important than we are.
7.       You're not to think you are good at anything.
8.       You're not to laugh at us.
9.       You're not to think anyone cares about you.
10.   You're not to think you can teach us anything.


Those rules make us want to punch somebody in the face (a very American reaction best carried out by anyone with “rock” in their name: Rocky, or The Rock, or Jim Rockford). Or at least we want to make fun of these rules.

Americans don’t believe that stuff, which is why the Scandinavian motivational company Speaker’s Club imports American speakers. We feel bad that they have to fight that inside themselves, and we wish them all the best in fighting it.

But even Americans fight something similar, to a degree. When we succeed, even if we don’t hear explicit jealousy from others, we can imagine it’s out there. Your inner voice may ask you, “Who are you to deserve this or that?” And when we do succeed, we can feel a kind of survivor’s guilt: “Is it bad that I’ve attained this or that when the people from my high school or college haven’t?”

You Can Be Remarkable And Humble

Still, we love humility, the kind you find among Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs teams; they are great, but their greatness comes from teamwork and good fundamentals. They never get too high or too low.

Brian’s favorite definition of humility is this: a right-sized view of yourself, neither greater nor less than you actually are. Humility insists that we be honest, confessing when we’re lucky but taking credit for the action we have taken and results we’ve achieved.

False humility is believing you are worse than you actually are. Egotism is believing you are better than you actually are.

If you’re good at something, or even great at it, tell people. Or show them. Don’t deny it. Don’t hide it. Don’t be embarrassed about it.

If you have gifts, talents, and skills, you have cowbells — and there are probably people with a fever for them. So go give them more

Get A Free Digital Copy Of The Cowbell Principle

This post
is an excerpt adapted by Brian Carter from the forthcoming book The Cowbell Principle: Career Advice On How To Get Your Dream Job And Make More Money, by Brian Carter and Garrison Wynn. Brian and Garrison will be giving away a limited number of digital copies at launch time. To get notified when they’re available, sign up at

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