Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why America's Young People Need The Try

For young people today, the idea of America as a land of opportunity increasingly rings hollow. They are coming of age in the toughest economic times our country has seen since the Great Depression, with no swift recovery in sight.

For students from the wealthiest families—those we’ve recently come to think of as “the 1%”—the path to adulthood will be smoothed by prep schools, SAT coaches, unpaid internships, and family connections. But for the 99%, especially those in poor families and America’s shrinking middle class, prospects are dimmed by a climate of stubbornly high unemployment, struggling businesses, and declining real household incomes.

One effect can be seen in the numbers of young people who drop out of school, whether because they need to help support their families, or because they don’t know where they’re headed, or because they think the deck is stacked against them whether they graduate or not. While some studies suggest that the U.S. high school graduation rate may be improving slightly after years of decline, it’s still estimated that 25% of students nationwide fail to graduate. Among minority populations and in poor school districts, high school dropout rates of 30%, 40%, or even 50% are not uncommon.

Some say these problems are structural, and that it will take massive, top-down programs to address them. But, regardless of whether or not you believe government is the answer, it’s clear that no major policy initiative proposed today could possibly come on line soon enough to improve conditions for this generation of young people.

This does not mean there is no hope of upward mobility for young people who have grown up poor, or no chance of life and career success for those who come from typical American homes. What it does mean is that it’s up to each individual to make the most of his or her God-given potential.

That has always been true, but in this economic climate, understanding that reality is more critical than ever. In a recent New York Times op-ed column, author Thomas Friedman succinctly explains why:

“In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius. Therefore, everyone needs to find their extra — their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment. Average is over.”

As Friedman suggests, these days the advantage lies with those who will do what it takes to rise above the crowd and be the very best at what they do. In other words, in a very real sense, we are all entrepreneurs now. The Try makes that case in a positive way, empowering young people to find the ingredients of success within. Based on our experiences to date, we have no doubt that success can indeed be taught.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Great Experiment: Can Success Be Taught?

Getting equipped for the workplace and launching a career have never been easy.  But for today’s young people, the climb is tougher than ever. they can be ambitious, work hard, earn a college or university degree, and still find themselves stuck in a dead-end, minimum-wage job—if they can find a job at all.  

And what about the millions who can’t afford college? Or those who drop out without even finishing high school? shockingly, an estimated 30% of american students who enter ninth grade fail to graduate from high school, and among minority and lower-income students, the percentages are even higher. what chance do these young people have in today’s ├╝ber-competitive job market?

For decades now, students have been taught that success is a function of intelligence, academic credentials and strong basic skills. Important as these elements may still be, it seems they are no longer sufficient. some hold that family connections are the sine qua non for building a career. But how many young people are socially linked to captains of industry? and while personal networking belongs in every job seeker’s tool kit, LinkedIn is no panacea.  

The question is, what does it take to succeed in America today? and is this recipe something that can be taught…not just to a handful of students at a time, but at scale?    

I’ve got an answer to the first question, and it’s one that every entrepreneur will understand. I’m convinced that success today depends even more on qualities of character—like grit, guts and heart—than on I.Q., credentials or connections. what’s more, there is a growing body of research to support the view that character trumps cognitive skills when it comes to career and life success.

I believe the critical ingredient in success is the constellation of character traits that cowboys call “Try.”  Through my foundation and its community partners, we’re showing that these qualities can be taught. If you’d like to learn more, and perhaps even become part of the solution, please download the white paper, and read on.

- Jim Owen

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cowboy Ethics Business Workshops in Action

Folks in Wyoming have been enthusiastic early adopters of the Cowboy Ethics programs.  From the great work that Ashley Bright and his team are doing with Wyoming Youth, to the state legislature itself, which recently adopted the Cowboy Ethics as the official state code, people in Wyoming seem to immidiately grasp the potential Cowboy Ethics has to change our country for the better.

While the inspiration that Cowboy Ethics offers has spread for beyond Wyoming, folks there continue to innovate and build upon the Cowboy Ethics foundation.  We want to share an article from the Wyoming Business Report about the efforts of the Kent Noble and the University of Wyoming School of Business to show that Cowboy Ethics are good for business too.

We've posted a expert from the article below and you can read more about what Cowboy Ethics can do for business on our website.  We call it, Standing Tall in an Upside-Down World.

Training course seeks to turn business right-side-up
By Business Report Staff

September 27, 2012 --
LARAMIE — An advanced three-day executive business training course will seek to make sense of the upside-down economy for participants.
A new course this year will use the "Code of the West" as a basis for business ethics "in an upside-down world."

"Adding a track highlighting the University of Wyoming College of Business 'Standing Tall in an Upside-Down World' business ethics initiative is a real advantage for our participants," said Business Council CEO Bob Jensen. "Not only will participants receive high-level training from UW professors grounded in real-world business experience, they'll also have the opportunity to learn more about business ethics based on Wyoming values."

You can read the full article at the Wyoming Business Report.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Helping Our Teenagers Succeed

The start of a new school year is a good time for teenagers to work with their teachers, parents and mentors on setting goals for the year. In a competitive society, it takes more than academics and skills to succeed. Developing qualities of character - like grit, perseverance and heart are essential for success. The Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership has been putting these ideas into action through our Be Somebody! program. This program works with teenagers on goal planning and discovering their true potential. 

We have also released a white paper, The Great Experiment: Can Success Be Taught?, designed as a resource for teachers, parents, mentors and students. Please be sure to review the paper and contact the Center if you are interested in getting Be Somebody! in your community or school.

We believe success can be taught and every young person in America can succeed. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

More Businesses using Cowboy Ethics

Cowboy Ethics has developed a common-sense approach to business ethics called Standing Tall in an Upside-Down World. This approach was designed to support small and medium-sized businesses and organizations in creating a culture of doing the right thing. We are excited when we discover that businesses are doing just that.

Kelly Bullis is the owner of Bullis and Company, CPA's which operates out of Carson City, Nevada. Kelly uses Cowboy Ethics principles with his company as he discusses in the video below.

You can implement Cowboy Ethics into your business or organization just like Kelly. More resources and information on workshops can be found here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Lynne Cheney Dedicates Cheney Cowboy Ethics Club in Casper

Lynne Cheney took part in the dedication ceremony for the new Dick and Lynne Cheney Cowboy Ethics Club last week in Casper, Wyoming. The new 3,500 square-foot space will provide the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming greater space and tools to work with local teens. The club is built around the code of Cowboy Ethics.

Lynne Cheney during the opening ceremony of the Dick and Lynne Cheney Cowboy Ethics Club.

Read more about the new ethics club here. Thank you to the Casper Star-Tribune for reporting on the story.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jim Owen has an inspiring new speech

Jim Owen has spoken to audiences all across the country on Cowboy Ethics. Now he has a new message—an answer to the question:
“What does it take to succeed in America today?”

Says Jim, “A college degree was once a ticket to the good life, if you were ambitious and willing to work—but not anymore.” As he notes, being average is no longer good enough. But contrary to what many assume, being exceptional may have less to do with I.Q., skills or credentials than with personal qualities that schools don’t teach. The real secret to career and life success, Jim believes, lies in your personal supply of Try—that powerful blend of passion, attitude and effort.

In an uplifting new 35-minute presentation (and in a 60-minute version incorporating his new documentary film), Jim Owen tells audiences how we can make The Try a core value in our lives. He also shares results of a “great experiment”—his foundation’s ongoing effort to change young lives by bringing The Try to schools and youth groups around the nation.

Friday, June 8, 2012

"Agriculture Proud" Weighs In on Cowboy Ethics

Ryan Goodman, the author of the blog Agriculture Proud, recently read Cowboy Ethics.  What started as an attraction to the photography became an opportunity for reflection on what is important in life.  We've posted Ryan's blog below, and you can read it and his other writing on his blog here.

Cowboy Ethics – Not just a Code of the West

JUNE 8, 2012
Have you read Cowboy Ethics - a book focused on showing the financial world how far they have moved away from the values and principles that some of this country’s greatest heroes lived for? I originally bought the book because I was intrigued by the photography of theAmerican West, but as soon as I opened the book I began reading, and an hour later I finished the book.
It really made me take into consideration the Code of the West that the author presents. True, some of the legendaryness (that may not be a real word, but it sure fits this spot) of the American Cowboy may be stretched or idolized, but the true message of the story comes through loud and clear. The message may be aimed toward the financial leaders of the country, but the story is for all Americans to read and to take into account.
The Code of the West that the author implies is as follows:
Live Each Day with Courage
Take Pride in Your Work
Always Finish What You Start
Do What Has to be Done
Be Tough, But Fair
When You Make a Promise, Keep It
Ride for the Brand
Talk Less and Say More
Remember That Some Things Aren’t for Sale
Know Where to Draw the Line
These may sound like a fantasized lyric from some ole worn out country song, but after reading through the story from the author I got to thinking about where my priorities are set and how I treat myself and those around me. So I strongly recommend this book by author James P. Owen as a good read for those interested in an encouraging read, and not to mention the awe-stirring photos of the American Western Rancher from David R. Stoecklein. I would even consider this as a great gift for those you feel the need to share the message with.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ordinary People Achieving Greatness

This book review of The TRY was originally posted at Thoughts From a Modern Mountain Man.  Thanks very much to Dusty Wonderlich (@dustywunderlich)

The Try Book Review: Ordinary People Achieving Greatness

May 21, 2012

The Try is probably the best motivational book I have read mainly due to the people that author James Owen chose to highlight. James Owen has become a major force in my life with the work he has done with his organization, Cowboy Ethics.  Growing up in Elko, Nevada I saw first hand the strong character and culture among the American West ranching families.  James Owen has captured that character and culture in his books (Cowboy Ethics & Cowboy Values) and his organization.
He took this one step further with The Try and highlighted extraordinary people that overcame great obstacles and challenges for their purpose.  Each individual and story is unique with a specific lesson that illustrates what James Owen calls The Try!
The essence of the book was built around eight time world rodeo champion, Ty Murray.  At a very young age Ty’s mother told him that God gave him an extra supply of Try.  Ty used this determination to become the greatest rodeo rider of all time.  Ty and many in the Rodeo world define giving 110% in anything you do as The Try.  This is not something that is handed out easily and those that have The Try are truly dedicated to their purpose.
Author James Owen took this story and found eleven other individuals that define The Try which is characterized through a blend of inner drive, focus, and determination that pushes individuals to pursue their goals relentlessly, confronting every obstacle, and never, ever giving up.
The subtitle is Reclaiming The American Dream and is well suited for each individual story as an example of the character that the United States was built upon.  Our society focuses on high profile athletes, celebrities and politicians but it is those unsung heroes that are the true heart and soul of the United States.  Reading The Try will give every individual new motivation and pride for those quiet heroes in our country.  In a fitting manner the book ends with the following quote:
“You are capable for more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.” Dr. E.O. Wilson

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

50 Young People Complete Cowboy Ethics Program

Originally posted by KGAB 650AM in Cheyenne, WY.

Boys & Girls Club Members Graduate Cowboy Ethics Course

About 50 Boys & Girls  Club of Cheyenne members have completed the Cowboy Ethics program at the club, according to Boys&Girls Club  spokeswoman Baylie Evans. She says the club will hold a ceremony for the graduates Wednesday afternoon at 4:45 at the club at 1700 Snyder in Cheyenne.
The code is based on the book ‘‘Cowboy Ethics” by James P. Owen, which features “Ten Principles to Live By”, including such things as take pride in your work, ride for the brand, some things aren’t for sale, and several others. Wyoming has adopted the ten principles as it’s official state code.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Inspiring kids--and communities - to 'cowboy up'

In youth groups, classrooms, and after-school clubs across the country, dedicated educators are using Cowboy Ethics and our Finding the Hero Within youth program as inspiration for developing activities of their own.  The Glenrock Independent and Douglas Budget recently profiled one such program in action in Glenrock, Wyoming. You can see the article here and we have reposted it below.
This is one more great example of the way youth programs focused on values and ethics can not only inspire young people, but also engage members of the larger community in reflecting on the principles that guide their day-to-day actions.  When people take the time to think about what they want to stand for, the tough choices in life become much easier. Your code is like your compass--it will point you in the right direction every time.

The Cowboy Way 

April 4, 2012

“Live each day with courage. Take pride in your work. Always finish what you start. Do what has to be done. Be tough, but fair. When you make a promise, keep it. Ride for the brand. Talk less and say more. Remember that some things aren’t for sale. Know where to draw the line.”

This is the Code of the West, as presented by James Owen, author of Cowboy Ethics. In the beginning of the spring semester at the Glenrock High School, teachers began challenging students to “cowboy up” through an innovative character building program based on the principles of the Code of the West. On April 2, those same students invited their parents and the public into the classrooms, and proceeded to teach the very same to them. In three demonstrations, students focused on the last of the codes of the west: Ride for the brand; Talk less and say more; and Remember that some things aren’t for sale.
“I live in Casper, but when I’m here I see a lot of cars have ‘Herder Pride,’ ‘Herder Mom,’ ‘Herder Dad.’ That’s a brand that people in Glenrock have come to live by,” Chris Daniels said during a demonstration. “It’s like troops coming back who are from Wyoming all have the bucking bronc, because that’s how they learn to identify themselves. That same principle applies, are you going to slander them when you see that brand?”
By using brand-name logos, the students demonstrated how everybody can relate to a brand, it’s recognizable and it sets you in a specific clique, or group. In cowboy ethics, you stay true to that brand and group.
The students explained that riding for the brand isn’t simply about following the crowd or going with the flow. It doesn’t mean giving blind and unquestioned allegiance to someone.
“Just because you represent a brand doesn’t mean you have to stay with it for life,” Wayne Walcott said. “You can change your brand, for better or worse.”
The students also demonstrated how words can be cheap, but actions scream louder than any war cry. In a silent demonstration, students taught their elders what it means to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. In another demonstration participants were shown how there are things that cannot be categorized with material possessions. Eventually, everyone would sell their home for a price, however other traits such as honor, dignity, courage and honesty should never be sold for any price. Some things are just too precious to label with a price tag, and those are the things that shape our very character and being.
The Code of the West first truly became relevant to the teachers and students in Wyoming, when on March 10, 2010, former Gov. Dave Freudenthal signed Senate File 51 into law, making the Code of the West the official state code of Wyoming.
Cowboys across the west, especially in Wyoming, have been practicing these principles for generations. More content to make a deal on a handshake and a look in the eye, than shuffle through piles of pesky paperwork.
Even Wyoming Governor Matt Mead got in on the discussion of the future of the code in Wyoming.
“The principles that have defined Wyoming and our citizens through history are positive ones,” Mead said. “We are hardworking, friendly and honest people. We are also fiscally conservative and independent. I am proud of what makes us uniquely Western.
“I believe that the foundation was in place before anyone put the code on paper, and the principles have served us well in the past and will continue to serve us well in the future. I am honored to be the Governor of Wyoming, because of the wonderful people here and because of the leaders who have gone before and established a legacy of doing what is best for our state and leaving it a better place for our children.”
Following the demonstrations, with the thoughts of morals and values fresh on their minds, participants heard Sen. Jim Anderson tell just how and why the code made it to legislation in the first place. As well as why it was, and still is, so important to him personally that this code thrive in our students beginning at home with the parents.
“Wyoming is the only state that has this as law,” Anderson said. “There’s two things that I’ve done since I’ve been in the legislation that have the most significance to me. The first one is the Hathaway Scholarship program, that makes a difference. This one is right along side that, it has the potential of the Hathaway but it’s going to take longer. When you do life changing things that change your very culture in this high school, when you learn these more cognitive things you make an internalization by which you can apply them with passion and courage and conviction. That’s going to take some time.
“Wyoming is engaged in a real effort to reform and improve education across the board. In order to be successful at these kinds of things we need to engage the parents, they have to devote as much to this as the students do. I’m so pleased that this is happening in Glenrock. This will be life changing.”

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.