Bridging The Gap

Learning From Other Generations

When people of different ages work together, however, problems can arise. If they didn't, Lynne Lancaster, 42, and David Stillman, 31, wouldn't own BridgeWorks LLC, a San Francisco and Minneapolis-based consulting firm that specializes in explaining to large enterprises, crammed with different generations, how we can all just get along.

Lancaster initially was a career counselor for Stillman, who previously worked in the high-tech field. They started becoming friends and learning something about each other's age groups along the way. Stillman believed that baby boomers were workaholics at the expense of everything else; Lancaster thought Gen Xers were lazy, impatient and unable to hold a job.

But as they talked, Stillman learned why Lancaster--and boomers--appeared to be workaholics. They had grown up in a different era. A scary era. Lancaster had grown up being promised the world; her own father, who graduated from college in the 1950s, had six or seven job offers almost immediately. But when Lancaster graduated in the late 1970s, there was a recession. "Just as this humongous force entered the job market," she muses.

Meanwhile, Stillman vividly remembers watching his parents' generation being downsized out of jobs left and right. He wasn't promised the world; actually, he was told, "Your generation is going to be the first generation ever to do worse than your parents."

Lancaster applied for jobs that had 400 other applicants going for them, so when she found her first job, like a goldfish pulled out of a piranha tank, she was going to do everything she could do to stay with the company. Stillman, on the other hand, conditioned himself not to allow his career to thrive at the expense of his life.

Man must choose wisely when choosing a partner. A business partner, that is. Take some advice on how to do it in Partners Are From Mars.

Fascinated by their generational differences, the two went into business together. And even as they host seminars and advise entrepreneurs and employees, Lancaster and Stillman still struggle with their generation gap.

Lancaster recalls an instance when Stillman was scheduled to be interviewed by a national magazine. When Lancaster called Stillman at home to see how it went, he said, "Oh, yeah. I had to blow her off." Fresh from a two-day business trip and unwilling to give up putting his kids to bed, Stillman rescheduled for the following Monday morning when the writer called later than they had planned.

"I would have called my husband, skipped dinner and stayed at my desk to get the job done," says Lancaster. But when she called the editor the next week to see if she had all the necessary information for the article, "the first words out of her mouth were, 'Oh, I just love your Generation X partner. He has the best values.' "

Stillman notes that when his partner was his age, competition was so stiff that "if she hadn't done the interview, there would have been 80 million people willing to do it."

Lancaster answers her own question of who has the better values: "Neither one of us. They're just different."

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the September 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Bridging The Gap.

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