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.
Releasing Your Power
Once you know what you’re good at that’s useful to other people, and you’re getting paid for it, you can go as far and fast and hard as your passion will take you. It’s amazing how hard you’ll work when you’re working for yourself, when you’re the primary beneficiary.
You don’t have to be an entrepreneur, but you do need to realize that when you work for other people, if you are a driven person, about 80% of what you produce is going to the owners and stockholders of the company. If you’re more motivated in a situation where you make more money for doing more and doing it better, you should get into an environment that’s more entrepreneurial and less corporate.
Here’s something strange: Being a passionate cowbell player (in the metaphorical sense) who gets paid for it can look like being a workaholic: You might do it at all hours and think about it constantly, but you’re doing it for the right reason.
And is it really addictive? We believe that addictive behavior and stress depend on your filter. They say stress is bad for you; is it? Some people jump out of airplanes and love it. Garrison would never jump out of an airplane that’s working properly just to see if he didn’t die. He went down the rapids once and loved it — but his wife was gray in the face and terrified.
Stress is not stressful; it’s an interpretation, a filter. What’s terrifying to some can be exhilarating and inspiring to others. If somebody is addicted to going to the gym and getting things done, that person is probably going to do pretty well with that. There’s always the weirdo who shoots up steroids, but most gym “addicts” will just be healthier and feel better about themselves.
There are positive compulsions.
On the other hand, there are negative ones. You can be addicted to yogurt-covered almonds, or pizza, or screaming and yelling at people, or having sex with people you don’t really want to have sex with. Certain addictive behaviors can stop you from ascending to a certain level, and others can help you get to a higher level. You can become the U.S. President by being a workaholic… but not by being an alcoholic.
Monitoring Your Feedback
Here’s an analogy Brian likes that’s a bit obscure for some folks: negative vs. positive feedback loops. In other words, thermostat vs. the Jimi Hendrix guitar noise. The thermostat turns the heater off when it’s hot enough. That’s a negative feedback loop. It promotes homeostasis. Jimi Hendrix’s guitar noise, on the other hand, is positive feedback, because the noise is being amplified by the mic, which is being amplified back into the mic over and over and over. A positive feedback loop pushes it to its maximum level.
Suppose you’re in a regular job and you try to do your passion at night or on the weekends, but it makes you tired and you do poorly at your job and your manager puts you on probation and you have to stop doing your passion. That’s negative feedback. You’re stuck because of that job. What you’re doing keeps producing the same result. You’re stagnant. But if you get fired with a severance and that gives you four months to create a new business, and it works out and you love it, now you can work on it all day and all night and get more and more benefit from that. That’s positive feedback.
Habits can hold you back. Say you like to overthink things and make them so complicated that people don’t know what you’re talking about, so they leave while you’re talking and consequently you have no influence. If you get clear with your speech and use everyday examples, people will like what you say and be more willing to pay for it. They can give positive feedback because they understand.
If the cowbell sketch had no Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer would diminish Gene’s cowbell. He didn’t like the aggressively loud cowbell. When you don’t have the Bruce Dickinson, you end up with some dude with bad hair telling you what to do. Without the Bruce Dickinson, you are at the mercy of the influencers who don’t have your best interests at heart. What you do really well, the biggest contribution you can make, is not on their agenda. Their deal is to make a profit using you as a tool. They don’t care about your dreams.
You might have a really bad manager, in which case you need someone in your life who can encourage you. Never get into a situation where there’s no Bruce Dickinson. Where is the Bruce Dickinson? You need an advocate for you who believes your cowbell is part of the key to success. Advocates encourage you and motivate you. They’re in your corner; they believe in you and want to see you succeed.
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 http://thecowbellprinciple.com/getnotified