Tell us a bit about your rural roots and how your gruntwork-
to-great journey influences your work today.
I was born in Dublin, Ga. My first job was detasseling corn, which
is just the worst—I will itch for the rest of my life. My next job
was digging ditches (with a spade shovel) for the cable company. I was briefly promoted to using the Ditch Witch, but after
hitting a water main and floating away a newly sodded yard,
they determined my future was not running heavy equipment.
After college I worked at a Fortune 500 company, starting with
an entry level job and moving up to vice president by age 27—
although that was mostly because my boss screwed up; I
learned a lot about what not to do by watching that boss.
Through all of this, I saw the importance of influence—
getting people to do what you want them to do. It all comes down
to this: The number one thing all humans value is feeling valuable.
The Magnavox Odyssey offered another early learning experi-
ence. How did you get involved with that project?
My dad worked for Magnavox and they developed the very first
home video game console. He managed to bring home one of
only four demo units in existence and, as any respectable
fourth-grader would, I brought it to school for show and tell. We
rolled in the TV cart, set it up, and these kids were freaked. A
few lights bouncing around the screen, but no one had ever
seen anything like it. My dad had 500 calls the next week:
Where can I buy it? How much does it cost? Now, Magnavox
developed this product to sell more TVs and, despite my
father’s objections, it wasn’t really marketed toward kids—
pretty short-sighted. Magnavox hired Hank Aaron to promote
the product, and I toured around the country with him doing
radio shows and demos at the age of 12.
arrison Wynn, author of “The Real Truth About Success” and “The Cowbell Principle,” is the closing
keynote speaker for the 2018 NTCA Regional Conferences. We spoke with him from the road to learn
about his early influences and his message of managing change.
Mark Marion is
director of training
at NTCA–The Rural
Contact him at
Days Insights From NTCA’s Training & Development Team
That ties into your book, “The Real Truth About Success,” where
Here’s the big takeaway I still carry: When you are marketing
something, your own thoughts and feelings are fantastic, but
you must know what your customers actually value, or else
nothing you do really matters.
you suggest approaching life “talent first.” How should people
begin identifying the talent that sets them apart?
Start with these questions: What do other people say you do
well? How much of that thing do you do? What do you do that you
find easy? What do you do that is almost always successful?
For me the key to success is doing very little of what you do
badly and doing a lot of what you do well. As a kid I ended up
attending a sort of Junior Toastmasters. They told me to get up
and talk, and I realized, well this is something I can do! A little
later in life someone said, “You’re pretty funny, you should do an
open mic night.” So, I did and ended up earning a living doing
standup comedy. But success came not just from doing things
I was good at, but also not doing all the other things I was bad at.
I don’t have math skills, and I’m not the world’s most organized
person, so I hire staff to do those things. That allows me to focus
on my ‘cowbells’ —talking to people and explaining things.
You use that metaphor of “cowbells” to describe desirable
Yes. In “The Cowbell Principle” we begin with the “Saturday
Night Live” sketch where Christopher Walken demands more
cowbell from Will Ferrell. The rest of the band thinks he is
“over-cowbelling,” but that’s irrelevant when the man writing the
check demands more cowbell.
You have to ask yourself: Are you doing something that is in
demand? Are you doing something that is making people say,