By Bryan Kramer | Commentary

The Secret to How Geniuses Innovate

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.

Anyone Can Innovate

With live groups, Garrison sometimes presents his “Innovation Exercise.” He holds up a water bottle and says, “This is a water bottle. Imagine it’s something else.” Holding it up to his ear, he says, “Look, it’s a phone.” Holding it by his tie knot, he says, “Now it’s a bow tie.” Holding it on the top of his head, he says, “Now it’s a bow in my hair.”

Then Garrison instructs the group, “Find an object and imagine it’s something it’s not. Your pen is a cigar. Your coffee cup is a hat.”

Once they’ve done that, he says, “Now that you know you’re creative, think of something you could do differently in your business. What haven’t you done yet? Leaders, what leadership tactic haven’t you done? I don’t care what it is — just make it different.” They do that and share some of their ideas.

Garrison continues, “One day you’ll think you’re all out of ideas. I want you to remember then that you’re wrong. The human race is always coming up with ideas. If you get stuck, you have to take an action or you won’t get out of it. Treading water is just a polite term for controlled drowning. You have to swim to survive. If you’re not going anywhere, you’re going to drown.

“We call it treading water because it’s more palatable. We call it quiche because no one wants to buy egg pie. We call it life insurance because you can’t call it death insurance. We wouldn’t buy makeup if it’s called ugly face cover. So look honestly at your situation and what you’re doing or not doing and take action.”

Using that exercise as an example, people who struggle to feel inspired to innovate can first examine whether their problem is truly a lack of inspiration or just pure and simple inaction. Either way, by then stretching your mind with a simple prop, you might discover your ability to explore a market space with a degree of genius you didn’t suspect you had.

A Genius Form Of Copycatting

Geniuses often do a type of copying that not everyone else thinks of. They copy the process not the substance. Anybody can copy the “what” of something, and we call that intellectual property theft. Geniuses copy the “how” unless it’s patented. Don’t copy WHAT a good idea is; copy the HOW that made the WHAT and make your own good idea.

Why does creativity win? Creativity creates a competitive advantage. You find newer, faster, more impactful ways to do something. If you can protect it with a trademark or patent, you protect your competitive advantage.

What does creativity have to do with success? Yesterday’s solutions created today’s problems. Today’s solutions create tomorrow’s problems. It never ends, and you can’t give up if you want to stay on top. Do people retire, or do they just get tired of solving problems and give up? “Oh shoot, another problem? Now I’m depressed. Well, I guess I’ll let the young people deal with it.”

And that’s why they make young people.

Get Your Free Digital Copy Of The Cowbell Principle

cowbellThis 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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