Stop-Gap Measures

Is bringing two age groups together under one business roof brewing success or inviting each other to a nightmare? Meet two sets of entrepreneurs who made their differences work-and one who couldn't span the generation gap.

ER and Marcus Welby, M.D. E-mail and CB-radios. The Phantom Menace and Star Wars. Kid Rock and the Rolling Stones. Bill Clinton's MonicaGate and Richard Nixon's Watergate. Columbine High School and Kent State.

Every generation is shaped by its environment, whether it's from listening to the news or to Huey Lewis and the News. It's who we are. Just as our grandparents or parents were probably a little warped by the Great Depression of the 1930s, people in their early 20s get to live with the idea that O.J. Simpson, in a sense, had something to do with their upbringings. Like it or not, we are Tonya Harding, John Wayne Bobbitt, Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger. But we're also Mr. Rogers, Marie Osmond, Big Bird and Princess Diana.

Regardless of whether Growing Pains affected your growing pains, maybe you should start thinking outside your generation. Baby boomers and Generation Xers, not to mention the parents of boomers and Generation Y, are all working together-like never before.

In fact, according to a recent study sponsored by several companies and National Small Business United, for the last four years, the number of 25-to-44-year-olds in the labor force has been shrinking, and it will continue to shrink for at least the next six years. If you are anywhere in or near this age group, the odds are very good that you're going to be teaming up with, or hiring, a lot of people who are either significantly younger or older than you.

That can be problematic, says Ron Zemke, who, with Claire Raines and Bob Filipczak, wrote Generations at Work (American Management Association). "The boomers say the Generation Xers are slackers, whiners; they're rude, they lack social skills, they always want to buck the system, and they don't want to spend time in the ranks," observes Zemke. "And the Xers say the boomers are self-righteous; they're workaholics, they're more interested in politics than results, they talk a good talk but don't practice what they preach. They demand constant validation and follow every fad of the week. There are grains of truth in all of that, on both sides."

But if we can cut each other some slack, the generation gap can be a good thing.

Sure, you may find that it's lonely being the only one, or one of the few, in your peer group. Maybe neither your partner nor anybody else in your company will ever understand your love for Paul McCartney, Andy Gibb, Debbie Gibson, or whatever heartthrob was a hit in your time. But America has always thrived on diversity. And so will your company.


Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to Entrepreneur and a features reporter for The Cincinnati Post.

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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: Stop-Gap Measures.

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