January 24th marks the birthday of one of rock’s most gifted singer-songwriter-musicians. Regrettably, he left us nine years ago after a bout with lung cancer. (As he observed to David Letterman, "I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years.") But it’s a good reminder—whether we’re talking about individuals or organizations—that it’s not how long you stick around that matters, it’s the difference you make. (More on that in a moment.)
The difference this individual made as an artist is writing and recording some of the smartest (and most brilliantly satiric) songs in the canon of rock—including “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Werewolves of London,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” “Hasten Down the Wind,” and “Tenderness on the Block” (all covered by famous artists from Linda Ronstadt to The Wallflowers). But the most moving of his compositions, to my ears, was the lyrical “Keep Me in Your Heart” which he started writing the day he was told his cancer was inoperable. Check out this clip—with pictures from the VH1 doc on the final recording session of the great Warren Zevon.
For those of us who work at transforming—or in some cases resuscitating—organizations and businesses, the lesson is the same, however difficult it is to accept. Everything in the visible world has a life cycle. Whether as organizations or as individuals, we’re simply not “built to last.” (Lawyers, guns, and money won't change that.) Businesses and human beings all have expiration dates.
Our contributions, however, can be timeless.