Lessons from Elvis

Today would have been Elvis Presley's 66th birthday. Even though he's been dead for nearly 24 years (we think), he's still a powerful figure in the entertainment industry.

Today would have been Elvis Presley's 66th birthday. Even though he's been dead for nearly 24 years (we think), he's still a powerful figure in the entertainment industry.

But his influence doesn't have to stop there. What lessons can we learn from Elvis that we can apply to our jobs as IT professionals?

Don't be afraid to take chances. His first hit, "That's All Right Mama," sounded like garden-variety country blues. But within a year he was singing "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," and "Don't Be Cruel," merging the blues with the evolving sounds of rock 'n' roll. The lesson? Take the initiative to expand your job duties to places where you see an unmet need in your organization.

Sometimes duty trumps desire. Elvis did his stint in the Army when he was called upon to do so, and earned the approval of his fans. Remember that if you're a programmer stuck doing maintenance because your company is short-handed. Patience isn't easy, but it's often rewarded.

Showmanship works. Plenty of other performers had voices just as good as Elvis, but Elvis put on a show no one else could match. While your work may be rock-solid, don't forget to market yourself, your department, your product. The most successful firms and individuals combine intrinsic worth with an adequate portion of self-promotion.

Do one thing and do it well. In Elvis's case, that was singing. Have you seen his movies? That they don't cause actual physical pain is about the best you can say about most of them. During most of the '60s, when he concentrated on his film career, the quality of his recordings suffered. Don't try to split your time among too many activities, and wind up doing none of them well.

All things in moderation. The medication that killed Elvis might have helped him had he not gone overboard. Too much of a good thing can be just as bad as too little. Remember that before you institute rigid policies with no room for flexibility. And don't forget to take time for yourself.

They can get by without you. Granted, Elvis didn't leave the building voluntarily. In his case, it was accidental death; in business, it can be layoffs or termination. Be sure you have a back-up career plan. And if you want to stick around, be sure to be a positive contribution to the bottom line.

Leave a legacy. If he were around today, would The King be as popular as Britney Spears, Eminem, or even The Beatles? Who knows? But even though he's gone, we still enjoy his music. Make sure your organization remembers you fondly when you move on. Hire carefully, document your work, and take time to do the little things that will help your company succeed even in your absence.

If I've stretched the metaphor in this column, don't be cruel and let your hound dog mess on my blue suede shoes. We in the ghetto of IT journalism sometimes get all shook up and can't help falling in love with a concept. I'm just pleading for your suspicious minds to love me tender.

Thank ya vurry much.

What IT lessons have you learned from your favorite rock icon? Talk Back to me below. Lee Schlesinger is executive editor of ZDNet's Business & Technology Channel.