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
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.
Sometimes the Dumbest Idea Is the Best One
“I’m telling you guys, you’re going to want that cowbell.”
— TheBruce Dickinson (Christopher Walken)
Garrison once worked for Hendee Enterprises, a company that came up with industrial solutions. When one customer approached the company looking for a way to prevent moisture from getting into its paint vats, Garrison suggested a simple alternative to the warping, leaking covers the customer was using: “Why don’t we put a giant shower cap on there and you can throw the caps away every day?” Five engineers said it was the dumbest idea ever, borne of Garrison’s lack of education and understanding of the idea. But the covers had to be disposable because any wood or metal fabrication would warp or degrade. And caps made of special plastic and elastic wouldn’t cause static electricity.
The customer bought 250 boxes of 500 covers each. Now every paint vat in the country is required to have this cover and it’s sold in 30 countries. Not bad for a dumb idea, huh?
“I’m telling you guys, you’re going to want that gargantuan shower cap.”
— slightly modified by TheGarrison Wynn
We often confuse simplicity with stupidity. It’s easy to think that if something is simple, it must not be the best or most effective. Wrong! Sometimes an idea seems dumb because you’rebeing dumb. Or snobby.
Ignore the Snobs… For the Most Part
There’s a big difference between what movie critics like and what the mainstream public will pay to see. In the 2000s, Brian often looked at Rotten Tomatoes to decide whether to see a movie, until he realized that he often disagreed with the critics whose reviews were featured on the site. Sometimes you want to see a mindless action flick, and most of those are disliked by movie critics. And some of the top-grossing movies are universally panned by the critics.
IMDB is a great resource, because it contains both mainstream viewer ratings and metascore, which is a measurement of critical response to the movie. If you’re in the mood for something mainstream, ignore metascore. If you want to have a great time AND have your mind blown? Look for a movie that does well with both metascore (over 70) and high user ratings (above 7.0).
Movie critics are, at worst, snobs. They want something new and unpredictable, but often what people like isn’t much different from what they liked 10 years ago. At best, because critics watch more films and think about them more than others, they have more insight than the average person.
What underlies snobbiness is nothing more than a kind of elite stubbornness. We have a way of doing things that has a tradition to it; it’s the “right” way to do it. If you’re doing something in a way other than that, we know it’s not as good.
A snobby high school girl says, in essence, “My situation is far superior to yours. You can’t make a contribution to me. By virtue of your birth, I should not even acknowledge your existence.” What is this? Nothing more than a defense mechanism. High school is tough, so to look unafraid and invulnerable —to prevent people from bullying you — you look down on others first.
For us, the question is whether snobbiness — whether it comes from outside or inside ourselves — helps you create things that tons of people like. Sometimes, you definitely need to have standards. But sometimes snobbiness creates an intellectual paralysis that leads to creating things that only a small number of other snobs like.
One thing we’re sure of: If your inner snob is causing writer’s block, you need to exorcise that self-judging demon.
Try Something Stupid
Is there something you’ve been afraid to do that you thought was a pretty good idea but you believe others would view as stupid?
Exercising through stupid ideas leads you to better ideas. Look at all the stupid contraptions we humans tried to fly in our quest to get airborne! Sometimes the onlyway to genius is through stupid.
We can guess that Formula 409 means the other 408 spray cleansers didn’t work. Number 17 probably sprayed dirt onto dirt. And Fantastik may have had had an earlier version called Purty Good. “How’s that clean?” “Oh, Purty Good… a lot better than Not Bad Spray!”
Are stupid ideas a good idea? Yes.
Since when is the first idea the best idea? If the first idea were indeed the best idea, then progress makes no sense.
Be Willing to Be Crazy
Every city has some local dealership with a crazy commercial. If you were an intellectual, acting like that would kill your career, but nobody cares about the sophisticated furniture guy. Crazy Eddie Furniture beats that guy every time.
Mattress Mack is one of the most successful businessmen in Houston, Texas – so successful he once lost a $7 million football bet. In his commercials, he held a big wad of money and yelled, “We’ll save you money!” Mattress Mack did, however, lose to chainsaw-wielding Hilton “That’s a Fact Jack” Koch in a Conan O’Brien contest for most annoying advertiser.
If you’re buying cheap local TV ads, it’s good to be crazy. Crazy can be an advantage in certain other industries too; it depends on the market. And even if you’re not the craziest person or company in oyur market, a little occasional craziness reassures your customers that you have a pulse. Which is good, because, most of the time, dead people don’t sell a lot of stuff.
Everyone wants their traffic to go viral, but most don’t realize that if they do get mentioned on a major site or go viral on social media their hosting company is likely to take their site down. When this happens, they lose the benefit of having gone viral!
The reason for this is traffic limits on almost every hosting solution. If you go over your traffic limit, some hosting companies may charge you for the overage while others will immediately take your site offline.
This is only one disadvantage of typical hosting plans. Another is server failure. Your site is typically hosted on only one server. If that server has a hard drive head crash or any other technical failure your site goes down.
Content Delivery Network
By using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) also known as a Content Distribution Network, your site is hosted on multiple servers in diverse locations. This is the ultimate protection against technical failures, power outages, and internet slowdowns.
CDNs also provide caching in multiple locations closer to the end users, decreasing page load times. Other benefits are enhanced security and resistance to DDoS attacks thanks to high capacity networks of servers.
The best CDNs automatically reroute traffic from a failed server to the backup, ideally without human intervention. Some CDNs require the process to be activated manually while others provides automatic failover detection to immediately activate your preconfigured backup server and alert you via email.
With Google’s emphasis on page load speed, using a CDN with load balancing can be the easiest method to decrease delays. The idea is to have multiple servers that can serve traffic and then use the CDN as the “middle-man” to distribute the incoming requests between these multiple servers. There are many load balancing methods. Legacy CDNs usually rely on Anycast routing while the more modern ones take it a step further with layer 7 load balancing solutions.
The benefit of the later method is that, while Anycast routing using the shorter path from user to server, the layer 7 load balancing is also able to route traffic to servers based on their current traffic load. Using both helps you not only take the shortest path but also to choose the best recipient. However, with Anycast-only solutions you always run the risk of overcrowding the popular servers while leaving the un-popular ones un-visited and underperforming.
CDNs are a very effective method of protecting your site from DDoS threats and other cyber-attacks because a CDN network of servers can handle vastly more requests at one time and because its servers are positioned on the edge of your network, where they can expect all incoming traffic.
“An effective defense against an HTTP flood can be the deployment of a reverse proxy – in particular collection of reverse proxies spread across multiple hosting locations. A reverse proxy is somewhat akin to a bouncer at a nightclub, deciding which guests are allowed into the party, where the real web server is. By deploying many bouncers in different locations, the crush of incoming traffic is split into fractions, lessening the possibility of the network becoming overwhelmed.”
Today some CDN platforms also provide websites with Web Application Firewall (WAF) and even offer the options to add custom security rules for organizations that want to tweak the default security policies.
Manually implementing your own load balancing or failover solution is extremely complex. Mistakes could lead to loss of traffic and other undesirable side-effects (i.e. temporary loss of Google rankings). Fortunately, implementing an existing CDN solution can be as simple as changing the DNS for your site at your domain registrar to route your traffic through the CDN.
How CDNs Work
When an internet user goes to your URL (such as www.yoursite.com), instead of the domain name server (DNS) pointing directly to your original server that hosts your site, the CDN will send the user to the server closest to their location (based on their IP address) or least busy instead. Depending upon the size of the CDN, there could be dozens of copies of your site each on a server in a different location.
Do You Need a CDN?
Huge sites with thousands of simultaneous visitors spread across the world need CDNs. Whether you need a CDN or not depends on the type of site you run and how critical it is for you financially for that site to stay online
Business focused websites will benefit from the security aspects, faster page load times and additional availability options. With commercial CDNs services available for just few dozen dollars a month, and freemium CDNs offering free plans and trial offers, any site owner whose income is derived from being online should consider upgrading to the use of a CDN.
Building an online business can be complex and tricky, not least as most customers now turn to the internet to make their purchases rather than physically go into a store. Imagine the frustration it saves around Christmas. With this in mind, websites are determined to make purchasing on their websites extremely easy for their customers.
One of the key things to consider when enhancing your e-commerce business is to ensure the customer has ease of use of the website to find the products or services they need. While the website ease of use is extremely important, there are other factors you should consider when enhancing your e-commerce website.
Build product information
Customers want to have as much information about the product or service as possible. You need to highlight all the features and benefits to give them a reason to buy it. Alongside this, you should give customers a chance to review items they have purchased and having a representative respond. This will build up a
relationship of trust by having someone respond to reviews, either thanking a customer or offering to resolve a negative response.
Provide customisable options
If your system allows you, include options for your customer purchases such as personalised gift wrapping, engravings or handwritten notes. Adding this personal touch to your service will boost your reputation, maximise profits and possibly cause the customer to refer you to a friend because of your excellent customer service.
Provide contact details
If a customer is unhappy with their product, or if they are unsure about a method of payment (or any other enquiry), be sure to include contact details. For customers who are unhappy with their purchase order, providing a way for them to contact you can help resolve any negative situation. If a customer cannot contact you with a query, they may go to the competition for the same product or service.
There is no point in having a well-written description of your product if you don’t put an image alongside it. Visuals are everything when it comes to selling a product. It is a great way to grab a potential buyers attention, especially if you have the product set out nicely and professionally photographed.
Provide examples of the item in use, or use it against other items, creating an outfit if you sell clothes is an excellent way to suggest other items the customer can purchase.
Further reading: Tools to create awesome visual content
No hidden prices
Make sure the customer knows the price of shipping before the final checkout. This will allow them to make a final decision rather than feel annoyed over hidden charges. Making them aware of the shipping costs will make them less likely to drop the purchase. Also, you should include as much information about the shipping as possible. Customers like to keep track of their order, so providing this information will excel your customer service.
Managing an e-commerce store should not be overly complicated and allowing the customer to use should not cause frustration. Remember to be honest about your service and allow them the chance to contact you about anything regarding their product. For more advice on how to manage an efficient e-commerce store, a marketing specialist can provide information on systems that will make establishing your business online a lot easier.