Cowbells Come With Amazing Business Insights In “The Cowbell Principle”


The Cowbell Principle offers advice to readers on finding and nurturing their unique individual gifts and talents.

the cowbell principle

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The “Saturday Night Live” Cowbell Sketch and its later incarnations are simple, but extremely funny. If you can’t remember it or haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to watch it. It’s that funny! Now, try to create a series of principles for how to get more out of your life and business using that skit. If you can’t, you might need The Cowbell Principle. 

In The Cowbell Principle: Career Advice as How to Get Your Dream Job and Make More Money, Brian Carter and Garrison Wynn dissect the hilarious “Cowbell” sketch and use it as analogy for success in life and business. Using the same quick wit as a stand-up comedy routine with personal insights and stories, they cover a variety of personal insights and strategies shared through stories, humor, and reflection questions. The result is a book that combines humor and story as a call to greatness. 

What is Your Cowbell?

Cowbells are just one of the ordinary concepts given a new perspective in this book. (There are also bagpipes, cake and icing, etc.) A cowbell, as used in this book, is a talent or skill. It isn’t just any talent like singing, however. It’s the difference between a developing pop singer and Katy Perry or between a R & B singer and Mariah Carey. Your cowbell is a specific talent or skill that sets you apart as an individual. It’s something that only you as an individual can provide. It’s the “gift” that people are willing to pay for (clients or customers) because it is a valuable product or service. 

In order to help readers identify their cowbell, the authors point out several characteristics that are present in every cowbell:

  • Demand: People want the product or service.
  • Mentorship: There is a path or teacher along the way.
  • Testing: There is refining.
  • Teamwork: There is support for the journey. 

A lot of these concepts aren’t new, as the authors can attest. The principle behind Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow” and “Linchpin” is about being indispensable and valuable. What is different in this book is how the concept of talent or gift is treated. In The Cowbell Principle, talent is both an individual and group process. It’s also something that involves that can carry over to other fields, not just one.

For example, a waiter who has excellent humor could use his “cowbell” for higher tips or a stand-up comedy routine. The setting isn’t always the star. Your cowbell will manifest itself in whatever setting you are. 

Finding Your Cowbell

Identifying your cowbell (or “gift”) is not an easy thing to given, especially when you have bills to pay and no road map to follow. That is why the authors advocate finding a mentor  (“Bruce Dickinson Principle” in the book) and the support you need, for your individual talents and your business as a whole. Taking the time to assess your goals, connecting with people who promote your success, and offer something of value in your journey will help on multiple levels. 

Once you have some idea of what you want to pursue and how you want to pursue it, it’s time to try it out. Like other books out there, there is a strong emphasis in this book for striking a balance between what makes you happy and what people have a passion for. There isn’t an either/or with your cowbell. For a talent to be a cowbell, it must bring you happiness as well as some level of profitability, whether you want to be rock band earning $100 a night or public speaker earning $100,000.

Carter and Wynn advocate taking small, but deliberately powerful steps toward your goals. Step out of your comfort zone as your resources allow, they argue. Be aware, though, that your perceptions about what is realistic may need to be challenged. 

The Verdict: Is The Cowbell Principle Worth Your Time?

The Cowbell Principle is a book I recommend for individual entrepreneurs or business owners seeking to make a more values-oriented change in their life or business. This will suit Millennials quite nicely because of the style of the humor used and “search for meaning” theme that can be found throughout the book. That being said, everyone will appreciate the stories and deep questions this book challenges readers to answer.

In that respect, the book is like “What Color is Your Parachute?” with a focus on surviving in the new business landscape.  The Cowbell Principle challenges readers to reflect on their notions of what a “gift” or “talent” is and how it can be used in one’s life. For that purpose alone, it is a great book. 

About the Authors

Brian Carter is a keynote speaker, author, comedian, and consultant. He can be found at @briancarter.  Garrison Wynn is a keynote speaker, author, consultant who can be found at @garrisonwynn.

Both use humor to show individuals, groups, and small businesses how to communicate with their clients and customers more effectively. Their book can be found on Amazon and the accompanying website at The Cowbell Principle. This review is based on a purchased copy of the book.

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Charles Franklin Charles Franklin is a Book Reviewer for Small Business Trends. He has a background as a professional reviewer, and is also a content provider and customer relations professional.

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