Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Among organizations partnering with the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership, the University of Wyoming College of Business is right at the top of the list.  Beyond working with the Center to develop Standing Tall in an Upside-Down World, a business ethics program based on the Code of the West, the College has become the driving force behind the initiative, working with the Wyoming Chamber Partnership to offer half-day workshops to business managers and owners. 

In addition to leading the program, Kent Noble, Assistant Dean of the College, plays a hands-on role as workshop leader.  He has also created an active blog for the program along with a “Community of the Code” for graduates.  He recently gave us his perspective on the effort.

Kent, you and the College have invested substantial time and resources in this project.  Why did the College decide to become so deeply involved?     
The program came about because of all the excitement generated by the premiere of Jim Owen’s film, The Code of the West: Alive and Well in Wyoming, and the state’s subsequent move to adopt the Ten Principles of Cowboy Ethics as the official state code.  The Wyoming Chamber Partnership, the umbrella organization for all Wyoming chambers, caught the fever.  They approached the Center and the College, asking us to consider creating a program for business managers and owners.  We thought it was a great idea, and our administration and board have been completely supportive.  In fact, our board members  have gone through the program themselves.

As for our motivation, I’d say that meeting the needs of Wyoming’s business community is indeed part of the College’s job.  The program is also a great outreach vehicle for us.  What better way to build relationships with Wyoming’s business leaders?  

How many have taken the training so far?
About a hundred business managers and owners have participated in three sessions to date.  We have two more scheduled in the next month alone, and we’ve been contacted by other companies that are interested.  It seems that every time we do a program, another opportunity pops up.   

What reactions are you getting?  Do you encounter a lot of skepticism?   
I get the sense that many people coming to the workshops aren’t quite sure what they’re in for.  In the sessions we do talk about personal principles as well as organizational ethics.  Many participants express surprise at how much meaning they find in the discussions.  The Ten Principles of the Code of the West are such that they register at the core, and when people start to talk about the principles that are meaningful to them personally…well, often they really open up to each other.  It’s a great thing to see. 

It can all get pretty emotional.  One of the things we talk about in the sessions is the Wyoming Youth Initiative, as an opportunity for businesses to get involved with their communities.  When we show them what the Center and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming are doing to help young people build a stronger foundation for their lives, people are genuinely touched. Every time we show the film clip of young people talking about their own 11th Principles, I get emotional myself .  

How are graduates putting the program into action in their businesses and communities?
A good chunk of the workshop focuses on ideas for putting individual and company codes into action, and I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about exactly how program graduates are doing that.  While we invite people to pledge to “live their codes,” we encourage them not to sign if they aren’t sure they can put their principles into action.  As we say, it’s not about having a code, but about living it.    
That said, after the last workshop, I got an e-mail from a senior bank executive in Jackson, saying “I can’t wait to put my principles into action.”  That makes me feel like we’re really making a difference.  Even if we only reach a few in each session, the ripple effects can be enormous. 

Do you believe this program could grow beyond Wyoming?  Could it work elsewhere in the same kind of format?  
Yes, absolutely ; I’m convinced a program like this could be effective in Colorado or New Mexico or any other state.   By way of evidence, one of the inquiries I’ve recently received is from a California company that would like to put its entire leadership team through the program.  While we think Wyoming is a special place that’s naturally attuned to the Code of the West, being in a Wyoming is a point of pride, not a prerequisite. 

What does this effort mean to you personally?
That’s an easy one to answer.  It’s been thirty years since I graduated from the University of Wyoming, and in my career I’ve had the opportunity to do so many things that are challenging and rewarding.  Yet  it took me all this time to figure out what my true passion is.  The fact that this program is making a difference in people’s lives is so incredibly powerful and rewarding to me personally—especially the ability to connect businesspeople with youth who need help.  I feel so strongly about the work that I would do it even if I weren’t being paid for it.  My fondest wish is for this program to grow wings and really take off.  

Kent Noble can be e-mailed at  For more information on the Standing Tall program, please visit its website at and the program blog at


This article originally appeared in LA TIMES, Thursday, March 4, 2010

The principles of “cowboy ethics” are now part of Wyoming law.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal signed legislation adopting an official Wyoming state code.

Jim Owen Speaks at the bill signing
in the Wyoming State Capitol 
The symbolic measure spells out 10 ethics derived from a “Code of the West” outlined in a book by author and retired Wall Street investor James Owen.

The ethics code carries no criminal penalties and is not meant to replace any civil codes.
The state code admonishes residents and lawmakers to live courageously, take pride in their work, finish what they start, do what’s necessary and be tough but fair.
It also calls on them to keep promises, ride for the brand, talk less and say more, remember that some things aren’t for sale, and know where to draw the line.
– Associated Press


This review of The TRY was featured on the Huffington Post last year. We are reposting it here for your enjoyment.

Dinosaurs were my thing. Not cowboys. The 6-year-old me thought that dinosaurs, with their many shapes and sizes, their teeth and spikes, their tails, wings, and fins were way cooler than some dude on a horse with a hat and a gun. Luckily Jim Owen, the author of The TRY, (Skyhorse Publishing), saw things differently.

Inspired by the cowboy films of his youth, Owen's fascination with the West and the unwritten code of the cowboy did not fade, as my dinosaur obsession did. The myth and the meaning of the cowboy only deepened and Owen began to see, in the relatively simple, and hardworking culture of the cowboy, values and lessons that are missing in much of modern culture.

All the laws, all the regulations, and all the corporate ethics manuals in the world don't begin to address the fundamental problem. The missing ingredient, Jim realized, was the clear, unshakable sense of right and wrong that can only come from within.

In his first two books, Cowboy Ethics and Cowboy Values (Skyhorse Publishing), Owen spells out the principles and values of the code of the West. They include things like "take pride in your work," and "do what has to be done" and "know where to draw the line." There are 10 in all, plus what Owen likes to call, "your personal 11th principle," which is a value or belief that you can add to the cowboy code to make it your own.

Even for someone less enamored of cowboy culture like myself, cowboy ethics can grow on you -- as indeed is has for people around the country. In addition to Cowboy Ethics being a bestseller, the State of Wyoming has adopted the 10 principals as the official state code. Owen has also spent considerable time on the speaking circuit, and has developed a curriculum of 'Values-Based Education" inspired by his books. 
Cherry Creek High School, located in Denver, is one school that is utilizing cowboy ethics in its curriculum. Many more schools have founded One-Ten clubs based on Owen's writing in which students pledge to live by core values and give 110 percent to everything they take on.

If Owen's work thus far doesn't make you want to put down your dinosaurs and give the Code of the West a chance, his latest book is, in my opinion, his most inspiring. The TRY is made up of 12 stories of ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Owen has built this book for the classroom, with reviews, exercises and opportunities for the reader to apply the lessons to his or her life, and among Owen's 12 people there is only one Cowboy: The seven-time, all round, world rodeo champion, Ty Murry.

The TRY includes stories of relentlessness like Ty Murry; instances of vision, like Jessica Jackley, the co-founder of micro-finance site KIVA; accounts of fearlessness, like Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of the nine black students first admitted to Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas; tales of resiliency like Francisco Reveles, who escaped from a youth dominated by gang violence to become a powerful mentor to help many, many more do the same. Each of the stories in The TRY is riveting, and inspiring. Owen captures the core principles that helped each ordinary individual to do something extraordinary. The overriding theme of all of them is that they had Try.

In standard English usage, 'try' is a verb that means 'to make an attempt.' But in cowboy culture, the word is a noun invested with profound meaning. When Cowboys say, 'That cow hand, he's got try,' they're talking about the quality of giving something every ounce of effort you can muster. And if a cowboy really, really admires someone, he'll say that person's got The Try -- which means he or she is someone who always gives 110 percent and never, ever quits.

There are many inspiring anecdotes, salient points, and get-in-the-game-and-play-your-heart-out-isms in The TRY. It cuts through most of our stories about ourselves - why we don't do what we say and can't achieve our dreams -- with a kind of context shift that lands like a light at the end of the tunnel. We are responsible for our lives. Circumstances happen, and while you can't control them, you can control how you respond to them. With that declaration comes a power that makes anything possible.

Read The TRY, and get to work on your deepest, most inspiring goal. As Owen writes at the end if his forward, "I truly believe that if you've got The Try, anything is possible. All it takes, is all you've got."


Back in 2004, when I wrote my book, Cowboy Ethics, translating the Code of the West into “Ten Principles to Live By,” it was with Wall Street and unfolding corporate scandals in mind. But once I started speaking on this theme to industry and investor groups, it became obvious that my message, “everyone needs a code…a creed to live by,” resonated with a much broader audience. The feedback I got was particularly emphatic on one point: “Young people really need to hear this. I wish you would take Cowboy Ethics into our schools.”

Frankly, I was ambivalent — even skeptical — about the idea, even though it’s clear that reaching young people is the surest way to change our society for the better. After all, they will soon be the ones in charge. Today’s students are tomorrow’s doers, leaders, and role models. And it did seem to me that a variety of forces, from the hectic pace of life for two-income families to the Supreme Court decision taking religion out of public schools, had combined to leave a major void in the moral and ethical upbringing of many of our young people.

I also knew that parents and school authorities had increasingly pushed for character education in public schools across the country, with at least 30 states mandating some form of program. Migrating Cowboy Ethics into an educational setting did seem like a natural for the nonprofit foundation I’d created, the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership.

At the same time, I hadn’t seen much evidence that character education programs were more than marginally effective, despite all the millions already spent out of tight school budgets.

As the father of two myself, I could see why such programs might not work despite all good intentions. Lecturing teenagers about “doing the right thing” could quickly become an exercise in futility. Then there were daunting logistical and organizational barriers. Difficult as it was for seasoned educators to navigate the maze of the vast educational bureaucracy, to an outsider like myself it seemed virtually impossible.

Then one day in 2008, I got a phone call that changed my mind and the course of my social ventures. Ann Moore, an extraordinary teacher at Cherry Creek High in Denver consistently ranked the number-one public high school in Colorado — called seeking permission to use my book’s “Ten Principles To Live By” in her classes for at-risk juniors and seniors (meaning students at risk of not graduating), many of whom had learning differences, behavioral issues, or both.

I told Ann of my trepidations about bringing the Code of the West into the classroom, but she persevered. Her enthusiasm and can-do spirit persuaded me to collaborate with her in developing a pilot program for high school students.

With permission from the school principal, Ann translated my Cowboy Ethics book into a four-week teaching unit and began testing the curriculum with her classes of at-risk students — the hardest kids to reach.

The results, as expressed by the students themselves, surpassed all my expectations. Those who scratched their heads in puzzlement on the first day of the class (“Uh... cowboys? Ethics… ?”) were soon engaged in pondering, discussing and writing about the values they want to embrace as a framework for their adult lives. Four of the students in one of Ann’s classes went on to audition for and win coveted speaking slots at Cherry Creek’s graduation — the very first time that students other than top scholars and star athletes had been invited to speak at commencement ceremonies.

To learn more about Finding the Hero Within, and to start a program in your school, click here.


Finding the Hero Within cultivates students’ potential by creating an environment in which they can open up and learn from each other. In this kind of setting, leaders naturally emerge — and often they are not the same ones who shine in the classroom or on athletic fields. The program also fosters leadership qualities in every student by:

•  Encouraging young people to think for themselves
•  Giving students control of projects and discussions
•  Acknowledging and reinforcing students’ deeply held beliefs
•  Highlighting concepts of responsibility to themselves and others
•  Seeing young people not only as potential role models among their peers, but also as future leaders

Rather than being structured as a formal, standardized curriculum, Finding the Hero Within is offered as a set of resources, activities, and ideas that teachers and youth groups can draw from to build a format tailored to their needs and interests.

Our approach does call on students’ skills in reading, writing, and critical thinking, and can easily be related to core curriculum. However, its power lies in its ability to inspire and motivate young people. Therefore, our approach is flexible, allowing each school or organization to decide on the appropriate balance of academic and non-academic activities. Finding the Hero Within is ideally suited to small-scale elective classes, after– or before-school clubs, and youth groups. It also provides ideas that schools can use for assemblies, special teaching units, community involvement initiatives, and awards programs.

The Center has borne all the costs associated with developing the key concepts of our approach, utilizing themes from the books in our Code of the West Trilogy and related films.

•  Our Hero Within Ideabook, a compendium of ideas, activities, and experiences, which we provide to qualifying schools and organizations free of charge in electronic (PDF) form.  The Ideabook is downloadable from a password-protected area of our website,

•  Discounted prices for books in the Code of the West trilogy when purchased through the Center (via a tax-deductible donation). We suggest that program leaders have access to at least one set of books for their own use. However, book purchases are not required.

•  Extras such as posters and t-shirts, which are available at a modest cost through our website but are not required.

•  Consulting by experienced program leaders, available by arrangement for an hourly fee.

To learn more about Finding the Hero Within, and to start a program in your school, click here.


Staring a Finding the Hero Within Program is easy, and the impact on young people starts immediately. So what are you waiting for?  Here is a step-by-step guide to getting up and running:

Step 1: Contact us!  We are here to help and we have a lot of materials that can help you plan and get you rolling. Email us at

Step 2: Get a partner. You don’t have to do this alone. Find a local business or company that will work with you to get your program up and running. We can help with that too.

Step 3: Design your program. Using the materials from the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership, identify your needs and any additional funding resources you require and work with your partner to raise the necessary funds (not everyone has additional funding needs)

Step 4: Launch your program. Bring Jim Owen in to give a speech and help you kick off your program, show The Try film or hold some other event to bring people together, share what ‘Finding the Hero Within’ is all about, and inspire them to become a part of it!

If you want to make this happen, you can do it!  If you get stopped at any time, please see the Seven Steps to success from The TRY.